U.S. to Spend Up to $350 Million For Uniform Tests in Reading, Math

Associated Press
Monday, June 15, 2009

RALEIGH, N.C., June 14 -- The federal government will spend up to $350 million to help states developing national standards for reading and math, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Sunday.

In the current patchwork of benchmarks across the nation, students and schools considered failing in one state might get passing grades in another. The Obama administration is urging states to replace their standards for student achievement with a common set.

Every state except Alaska, South Carolina, Missouri and Texas has signed on to the concept, but getting them to adopt whatever emerges as the national benchmark will be politically difficult.

Duncan said the government's spending will go for the development of tests that would assess those new standards.

The money will come from the Education Department's $5 billion fund to reward states that adopt innovations the Obama administration supports.

"Resources are important, but resources are actually a small piece of this puzzle," Duncan said in an interview with the Associated Press. "What's really needed here is political courage. We need governors to continue to invest their energy and political capital."

Duncan announced the spending plan Sunday at a conference for education experts and 20 governors hosted by the National Governors Association and the James B. Hunt Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy.

"Historically, this was a third rail. You couldn't even talk about" standards, Duncan said in the interview. "What you've seen over the past couple years is a growing recognition from political leaders, educators, unions, nonprofits -- literally every sector -- coming to realize that 50 states doing their own thing doesn't make sense."

Any tests developed for the new standards would probably replace existing ones.

Asked to explain the money's focus on developing more tests, Duncan said developing the standards themselves would be relatively inexpensive.

Developing assessments, by contrast, is a "very heavy lift financially," he said, expressing concern that the project could stall without federal backing.

"Having real high standards is important, but behind that, I think in this country we have too many bad tests," Duncan said. "If we're going to have world-class international standards, we need to have world-class evaluations behind them."

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