Clinton Announces 'National,' Not 'Federal,' Pilot Tests
But Will Federal Tests Arrive Through the Back Door?
WASHINGTON, DC - Despite the defeat of his national testing plan (See December 1997 Education Reporter), President Clinton has announced that reading and math pilot tests for elementary school students will be developed by next fall.
The 25-member National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), which includes governors and legislators of both parties, business leaders, parents and teachers, has presented Clinton with its plan for developing the tests. The NAGB makes policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the organization that tests students nationwide on various subjects.
The Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill that passed the 105th Congress denies funding for national tests throughout Fiscal Year 1998. This includes money to "field test, pilot test, implement, administer, or distribute in any way, any national tests." The NAGB is allowed by the law only to continue developing test questions, which must be evaluated by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The NAS is required to conduct a total of three studies on the testing issue, and submit written reports to Congress and the White House on its findings.
Clinton said the NAGB pilot tests represent a "landmark step toward putting high standards in the classroom and keeping politics out." He announced the appointment of Diane Ravitch to the NAGB. Ravitch previously served on the Department of Education's (E.D.) National Testing Panel, and resigned when E.D. bureaucrats began dumbing down NAEP and Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) tests, in preparation for Clinton's national testing plan. Clinton hopes that Ravitch's appointment to the NAGB will add credibility to his assertion that the new tests will be "a yardstick, not a harness," and "national" exams, not "federal."
Will the federal government sneak in through the back door to control the tests? In the closing hours of the 105th Congress, a bill (H.R. 2977) amending the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) passed both Houses. Enacted in 1972 to require government advisory panels to be open to public scrutiny, FACA is the law that exposed the personnel and actions of Hillary Clinton's secret Health Care Task Force.
The new amendment exempts the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Public Administration from FACA's public disclosure requirements. It gives NAS the latitude to determine for itself which committee meetings it will hold open to the public, and uses language that shields officials, agents and employees of NAS from public disclosure of meetings or materials. This undoubtedly includes any meetings or materials on the subject of national testing.