Apples and Oranges, Panel Says of Attempts to Compare School Tests

From Associated Press

Schoolchildren take such an array of standardized tests that the different results should not be compared to each other, an expert panel said Friday in a report that could bolster President Clinton's call for national testing standards.

The special committee took no position on whether there should be national tests that would measure individual reading and math performance against a uniform standard.

But the panel from the independent National Research Council did say existing tests developed by states and private companies are too diverse for the results to be compared to one another or to national or international benchmarks.

Clinton proposed early last year that a voluntary national test be developed for fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math as a way for parents to know better how their children and schools are performing.

Marshall S. Smith, the acting deputy secretary of Education, said the report shows a national test is needed.

"We've believed all along that it was important for states and communities to have a challenging benchmark in effect to measure their progress . . . in reading and math," he said. "I think it's important for parents in Louisiana to know how their students are doing compared with students in Massachusetts, in Minnesota or California."

Congress, in a spending bill last fall, limited the work that could be done on the tests. But the issue will be debated again when lawmakers consider a 1999 spending bill for the Education Department.

Opponents say the tests are unnecessary because existing tests already give a good picture and the federal government should not determine standards. Other opponents say the tests would harm blacks and Latinos from poor school districts.

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