A proposal to create a modified form of national education standards appeared to be moving House and Senate leaders closer to settling their sharp differences over the issue Friday. The dispute has been holding up passage of the largest domestic spending bill for the coming year.
But the latest alternative under discussion - floated during a closed-door GOP strategy session by Rep. William F. Goodling, R-Pa. - would almost certainly draw the president’s veto because it would prevent the administration from developing the national tests for reading and math it has been insisting on.
Clinton has vowed to veto any bill that includes a ban on the tests, and he repeated that threat Friday in a speech to teachers gathered at the White House.
Under Goodling’s approach, Congress would fund a joint effort by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Governors’ Association and the National Conference on State Legislatures to develop a new measure of student performance next year based on the test scores of commercially available standardized tests.
Goodling, chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee and a leading critic of national testing, said his proposal received a “fairly good response” from Senate members, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., adding that “it is as far as we can possibly go in the House.”
One senior GOP leadership aide said the proposal would meet the president’s requirement of providing a standard measure of student performance, but without government involvement in devising a national test.
“We think we have a proposal here that meets both sides’ greatest needs but does not threaten what we fear most: a national test that in turn creates a national curriculum,” the aide said.
However, House GOP leadership aides cautioned that the two sides did not reach a final agreement and that there are competing proposals on the table.
The House voted overwhelmingly last month to stop the tests from even being developed as part of a $269 billion labor, health, human services and education spending bill for fiscal 1998.
But the Senate has approved a modified version of Clinton’s plan that would shift management of the tests away from the Education Department to an independent, bipartisan board.
House and Senate conferees are scheduled to meet Tuesday.
Clinton has made national testing a top priority of his second term, but Republican leaders in Congress - and many Democrats representing large numbers of Hispanic and black constituents - are deeply suspicious of the idea.
Now, schools use state or local exams to assess how students are doing. There are widespread concerns that those tests are too easy.
Rigorous national tests, Clinton contends, would offer better insight into how schools are faring and encourage educators to demand more from students.
Starting in 1999, he wants fourth-graders to take a test in reading and eighth-graders to take one in math. The testing proposal is voluntary for states. So far, seven have pledged to use the tests.
But many Republican lawmakers say the tests would lead to excessive federal control over curriculums.
“A one-size-fits-all test will necessarily steal from parents, teachers and students the ability to control their curriculum … because what is tested is what is taught,” said Rep. John B. Shadegg, R-Ariz.