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Pawlenty Backs More Tests for High Schoolers

This seems like a risky move, given that Pawlenty is on the move to be a presidential candidate.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty endorsed the centerpiece of President Bush's second-term education agenda Sunday, backing a plan to extend the federal No Child Left Behind testing requirements to high schools.

He made his remarks after meeting with U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, one of the architects of the 2001 law mandating basics skills testing from grades three through eight.

Pawlenty has been an enthusiastic supporter of No Child Left Behind, but his comments on Sunday were the first time he has endorsed Bush's plan to push the law's reach into the nation's high schools.

"I think Minnesota could, and should, move in that direction," the Republican governor said.

He was attending a meeting of the National Governors Association's 2005 National Education Summit on High Schools.

Pawlenty's statement came as a coalition of 13 other states announced plans to support the American Diploma Project, which requires tougher high school courses and testing to prepare students for college. It also came a day after Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates presented the governors with a harsh critique of the nation's high schools, saying they do not produce enough graduates who meet the expectations of employers and colleges.

The governors are expected to approve a policy later in the week that is neutral on Bush's idea of requiring two years of additional state testing in high school.

Instead, they are expected to endorse a list of conditions requesting input, flexibility and full federal funding for its costs.

Ready to back plan

Pawlenty moderated a panel discussion where Spellings made a forceful case for No Child Left Behind, maintaining that nationwide testing in math and reading has already produced gains in student test scores and begun to close the achievement gap for underprivileged children.

"We know that what gets measured gets done," Spellings said.

Pawlenty talked with Spellings after the session and emerged ready to back the Bush plan, which Congress is likely to take up later this year. It faces significant opposition from many state legislators and educators for provisions that penalize schools that don't reach testing targets.

But Pawlenty, accompanied by Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren, said the nation's high schools need to be held more accountable.

"It would be a good idea to extend it to the high schools," Pawlenty said. "It's consistent with the direction in which we're headed."

Seagren said Minnesota already plans basic skills testing for high schoolers, possibly as soon as the 2007-08 academic year. As currently devised, Minnesota students would be tested for writing in ninth grade, reading in 10th and math in 11th.

"I don't think we're that far off from what the president's expectations are," Seagren said.

Whatever the parameters of the coming federal legislation, Pawlenty said, "it wouldn't be much extra effort" to meet them. "From a Minnesota standpoint, it fits together."

Little backing in state

Congress passed the current testing mandate in 2001, intent on identifying underperforming schools. It passed with bipartisan support but with little backing from the Minnesota delegation. Several House Republicans and Democrats from Minnesota said it would be an unwarranted federal intrusion into state and local school matters. Rep. Jim Oberstar, a Democrat, was the only Minnesotan in Congress to vote for the bill.

In Minnesota, 481 schools were tagged last year as not making adequate progress, based on reading and math tests. The schools face no immediate sanctions, but some may have to provide extra services or restructure in the future.

Critics of the new testing requirements say they place undue emphasis on teaching to the tests. Even among congressional backers of No Child Left Behind, some complain the Bush administration has not adequately funded the new testing mandate. The president's budget includes about $1.5 billion next year to extend student achievement requirements and testing to high schools.

Minnesota Democrats also have criticized Pawlenty for shortchanging the state's schools with a funding proposal that would boost basic school spending 2 percent a year for two years.

A group of DFLers and Republicans from both the Minnesota House and Senate announced a plan this week to increase spending by $750 million -- a 5 percent increase -- but did not say where the money would come from.

The four-day Governors Association meeting includes discussions with Bush. Pawlenty also is scheduled to take part in a session today to look at ways to improve coordination between federal and state officials on early childhood education programs such as Head Start. Pawlenty serves as vice chair of the Governors Association early childhood and workforce committee.

Kevin Diaz is at kdiaz@mcclatchydc.com

— Kevin Diaz
Minneapolis Star Tribune


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