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D. C. Superintendent Proposes Dropping New Exam

D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey wants to drop plans to administer a student exam that the school system has spent about $3 million to develop because the test would be used only once and would not measure knowledge of newly adopted classroom learning standards.

The 64,000 students in the city's traditional public schools who long have taken the Stanford 9 achievement test annually were supposed to switch to an exam called TerraNova in spring 2005.

But Janey, who became superintendent in September, found that the city's schools lacked uniform math and reading standards and persuaded the school board last month to approve learning standards used in Massachusetts.

Under his new proposal, which would require approval by both the school board and the U.S. Department of Education, students would take the Stanford 9 one last time in spring 2005 and then, starting in spring 2006, be given a new test aligned with the Massachusetts standards.

"It makes no sense to use a test just one time that won't tell us what we need to know about student performance," Janey said this week, referring to the TerraNova exam.

The shift in plans is a symptom of frequent turnover in school leadership. Janey is the District's fifth permanent schools chief in nine years, and he succeeded two interim superintendents.

When Paul L. Vance was superintendent, he signed a 2002 agreement with the federal government that required the school system to use a new standardized test starting in spring 2005. And a contract to use TerraNova was signed this year with the exam's publisher, CTB McGraw Hill, when Elfreda W. Massie was interim superintendent.

That contract called for the school system to pay the publisher a maximum of $3.75 million this year to develop a version of TerraNova for D.C. students. So far, the system has spent about $3 million in federal money on devising test questions and field-testing them, according to Robert Rice, who succeeded Massie as interim superintendent and is now a special assistant to Janey.

Janey and Rice said that not all of the $3 million will necessarily have been wasted if the District abandons TerraNova. Some of the test questions that were developed might be usable on the new exam given to D.C. students in 2006, they said.

It would cost about $800,000 to administer the Stanford 9 this spring, Rice said.

Vance signed the agreement with the federal government, which called for the Stanford 9 to be dropped in 2005, after the U.S. Department of Education determined that the District's learning standards and student assessment tools did not comply with regulations in Title I, the federal program that provides funds to school systems nationwide for educating low-income children.

Janey said he plans to ask the Education Department soon for permission to change the agreement, which says the federal government can withhold money from the District if the terms are violated.

Susan Aspey, press secretary at the department, said it would be inappropriate to comment on a proposal the agency has yet to receive.

If the federal government agrees to the change, Janey said, he will ask the school board to approve use of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, which would be modified for the District.

Several city and school officials, including D.C. school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, said they support Janey's plan.

"It doesn't make any sense to submit your entire system to a test that isn't aligned to anything and you won't use again," said D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), who is expected to become chairman of the council's Education Committee in January.

Another issue facing D.C. educators is how to switch standardized tests and still continue to measure students' annual yearly progress, as required under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Many other school systems that have changed exams also have that problem.

Rice said there are ways to draw up the new test so that it allows for valid comparisons with students' performances on the previous exam.

— Valerie Strauss
Washington Post


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