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Clinton Pitches Education Plan For Controversial Tests Initiative

By Elizabeth Shogren
Los Angeles Times
ANNAPOLIS, Md.

President Clinton tried to head off grassroots resistance to his education initiatives Monday, saying that America's children will be hurt and "the rest of the country will pay the price" unless schools begin administering nationwide tests of student performance.

The president made his most fervent and lengthy pitch yet for his proposal to institute standardized tests to ensure that all fourth-graders have learned to read and all eighth-graders are proficient in math.

The proposal, perhaps the most controversial of Clinton's broad package of education initiatives, has been criticized by some educators and politicians as an attempt by the federal government to usurp state control over education.

"That's nonsense," Clinton said in response. He accused his opponents of hiding behind a "very small fig leaf," and suggested the only way U.S. students will be able to catch up to those in other industrialized countries is if people stop talking about states' rights and start giving students national tests that reflect global standards.

"He has very little to sell here," said Nancy Grasmick, Maryland's state superintendent of schools, adding that the president's proposals are "totally congruent with what Maryland is doing."

But the president clearly would receive mixed reviews on his testing proposal in many other state capitals, and in Washington the GOP-controlled Congress has already expressed skepticism.

"This is not the federal government's job. It's the state's job," said Robert Calfee, a professor of education and psychology at Stanford University and a co-chairman of the California commission charged with developing statewide academic standards.

Most states, however, do have their own statewide testing programs. They also use the National Assessment of Education Progress Test to evaluate a sample of their students. Clinton's proposed fourth-grade reading test would be modeled on this exam, and the eighth-grade math evaluation would be derived from the Third International Math and Science Study, a test that the United States and a dozen other nations use to determine and compare student achievement in those subjects.