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Testing Politicians Might Be the Ticket

Ohanian Comment: Yahoo! Here's a reporter who has a good idea.

Perhaps we need a law called no politician left behind.

Imagine going to the polls on Nov. 2 with two tools to help you decide who to vote for.

One would be your handy voter guides that list who is running for what office and each candidate's basic positions on issues.

The other would be the candidate's test scores on mathematics, language arts, science and current affairs.

My guess is, we'd see some interesting test results.

Testing is on my mind because Northland schools are explaining how they fared under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The federal law requires states to impose standards for test achievement on local schools, and subgroups of students within schools such as those who get reduced-fee lunches.

Republican lawmakers, who crafted and favor the program, say they're ensuring everyone gets an education.

Democrats say it's an intrusion of federal government into local affairs and a trip wire for the eventual shuffling of public school money into private school vouchers.

The federal enforcement hammer is that when schools have enough low-income students, according to free or reduced lunch counts, they receive extra federal money under what's called the Title 1 program.

When subgroups within schools, such as minority or special education students, don't make adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind, Title 1 funds could be withheld for that school building. That's if it receives such funds, and many Northland schools do not.

Also, there are requirements such as allowing students to transfer to other schools or to receive tutoring if a school does not meet the standards.

The thought is noble.

That no child should get a poor education because the staff was inept, and that federal funds not be used to pay salaries for educators who can't educate.

But standards for No Child Left Behind differ from state to state. Test results vary wildly from year to year within school districts and individual schools. Variance is especially notable in small schools where the strengths of individual class years can vary.

The graduates of 2005 might be great at math and terrible in language arts, while the reverse is true for the grads of 2007.

Plus, some school administrators point out that it takes at least 30 students to form a subgroup. If 29 students don't meet the state standards on tests, their inability to meet standards can pass under the bar.

Most Northland school officials say they're reaching out to all students and their testing standards are more extensive and informative than No Child Left Behind requires.

Still, they wind up explaining subgroup scores for a federal program that school patrons don't really understand.

Almost all school officials believe the federal program eventually will be changed.

Maybe after an election year would be a good bet.

But the basic premise of testing to make sure that all students are proficient in basic subjects could surely be applied to politicians for the public use.

We could put those running for office into subgroups according to federal, state and county posts. Then for additional subgroups, we could include members of their campaign staffs, since those people will likely influence policy and constituent services as office staffers if their candidate is elected.

Imagine asking candidates for the Missouri General Assembly to take the same math tests high school students take. Legislators have some serious budget crunching to do, so maybe we should make sure they can add the numbers. We'll throw in some language arts essays and science multiple choice questions for good measure.

Let's ask our congressional candidates to answer questions about foreign policy, environmental problems and economic issues. We'll have some professors in those fields come up with the questions.

County office holders can be asked to field questions, perhaps with essay answers, about the history of local governmental policy, tax law and growth planning theory.

We'll test all the candidates on the same day.

They can all show up at designated locations. The questions on the tests will be a secret until test day, no prepared texts allowed. School officials will grade the tests and post results on the Internet.

Voters can then judge how well candidates and campaign staffers are versed on matters of importance, in the voters' neighborhood.

Politicians might find some unhappy subgroups at the polls.

To reach Bill Graham, Northland reporter and columnist, call (816) 234-5906 or send e-mail to bgraham@kcstar.com.

— Bill Graham
Kansas City Star


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