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VT Wants It Both Ways: Keep Their Standards and Add On Fed's Too

Ohanian Comment: According to this editorial, Vermont weasels are going to choose to obey the Feds and keep their current plan too. And, of course, the Burlington Free Press, a Gwinnett rag, loves the idea of more testing. "More" is always better, right?

Vermont schools might have to fill out two report cards to monitor student academic achievement: one to satisfy the federal government; the other to tell Vermonters how their children are really doing.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act approved last year, each state is supposed to test every child in grades three through eight in math and language skills. States have wide latitude over which tests to offer and how to define an acceptable score.

The result has been dramatic nationwide disparities as some states dumbed down their testing programs to make it easier to pass federal muster. In the first report on the federal testing mandate, several traditionally low-performing states like Arkansas had no schools failing to meet academic standards while such states as Michigan with highly regarded school systems had numerous schools falling into the "needs improvement" category and facing federal sanctions.

Vermont requires students in grades four, eight and 10 to take the New Standards Reference Exams, which are offered in only a few states and are considered to be among the more difficult standardized tests. Partly because of the rigor of the new standards exams, Vermont student scores don't look very good at first glance. Last year, for example, roughly 45 percent of Vermont students averaged "below standard" on the tests -- suggesting room for significant improvement, but not necessarily raising alarms about the state's comparative educational performance.

The fear was that to avoid loss of federal aid and test all students in grades three through eight Vermont might adopt a relatively easy test while dumping the more difficult -- and costly -- New Standards Reference Exams, thereby making the state look better in the eyes of the federal government and state taxpayers.

According to the Vermont School Boards Association, the state intends to go both ways. The state likely will purchase standardized reading and math tests to meet federal No Child Left Behind guidelines but also continue the New Standards Reference Exams.

Although expensive, this is the right solution. Vermont should not compromise its high academic standards by weakening its ongoing exam program, which has proved popular with educators who think it offers a more accurate gauge of students' scholastic abilities than other tests. Through offering a second test that is widely used elsewhere, Vermont will meet federal rules while also giving taxpayers a better idea of how Vermont children stack up with peers around the country.

By maintaining the New Standards Reference Exams and fulfilling the federal dictate to test more students in basic subjects, Vermont schools will enhance accountability in the classroom.

— editorial
Thoroughly Tested
Burlington Free Press
Feb. 20, 2003


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