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Pilot National Reading, Math Tests to Be Ready by Fall, Clinton Says

By Stephen Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 23, 1997; Page A10

President Clinton announced yesterday that pilot tests in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math will be developed by next fall under his plan to raise educational standards through voluntary national exams.

A number of congressional Republicans have fought to stop Clinton from giving national tests, but the first legislative battle ended this month in a compromise that shifted development of national tests from the Education Department to a bipartisan, independent National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB).

Yesterday, in a signal that he wants to continue pressing Republicans on the issue, Clinton used part of his weekly radio address to praise the NAGB for welcoming three new members, including Diane Ravitch, who was an assistant secretary of education during the Bush administration.

Ravitch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has described herself as an "enthusiastic supporter" of Clinton's proposal for national testing but argued that NAGB should be in charge of the tests. She was traveling yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

NAGB includes governors and lawmakers of both parties, business leaders, parents and teachers. The board developed the current national assessments that track student progress on core subjects, used by 43 states, but does not provide individual student, school or district results. Clinton's proposal, building on that framework, will provide test scores for individual students.

"I'm confident the board will ensure that the new tests measure what they should, the basics -- nothing more, nothing less," Clinton said. The president stressed the tests "will be national, not federal. And, as Diane Ravitch said, they'll be a yardstick, not a harness."

The national school testing idea has been controversial because many conservatives fear it would enlarge the federal government's role in schools. Clinton's proposal also has been criticized by black and Hispanic members of Congress who think such tests could stigmatize poor minority students who attend schools that lack the money or staff to prepare for them.

But Clinton yesterday called national tests "a landmark step toward putting high standards in the classroom and keeping politics out."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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