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S P E C I A L   F E A T U R E

Congress Gives Clinton an F on National Testing

     This year’s dumbed-down federal tests can be wadded up and tossed in the trash,” said Senator John Ashcroft (R-MD) of recent congressional action which put an end to the administration’s efforts to use Department of Education funds to institute federalized national testing.
     On November 7, both the House and Senate voted to approve the Labor/HHS/ Education Appropriations Conference Report which contained Congressman Bill Goodling’s (R-PA) amendment banning expenditures to “field test, pilot test, implement, administer or distribute in any way, any national test.” The House vote was 352 to 65 (with 16 not voting). In the Senate, the vote was 91 to 4 (with 5 members not voting).
     “We praise God for His faithfulness to us, and we thank home school families across America for all their efforts,” said Home School Legal Defense Association President, Mike Farris. “It was the thousands of phone calls and letters that created the momentum to carry this measure through with a veto-proof margin in both the House and Senate.”
     The week leading up to the vote was a roller-coaster ride of offers and counter offers. HSLDA staff spent several late nights on Capitol Hill shuttling between offices, negotiating the final details, and meeting face-to-face with leaders like Majority Leader Dick Armey. In spite of rumors to the contrary, House leadership stood with concerned home school parents and Congressman Goodling, and for that we are grateful. In the end, the Clinton Administration wanted fast-track trade legislation more than it wanted national tests. Ironically, it got neither!
     In an astonishing statement claiming victory, President Clinton said that the agreement “moves us down the road to high national standards and voluntary national tests in the basic skills.” However the actual bill language proves otherwise.
     As Goodling explained to the press, “This agreement stops the President’s plan in its tracks by prohibiting pilot testing and field testing. With this agreement, the White House has compromised and reversed its position on national testing by acknowledging our philosophy on how to best monitor student academic performance.”
     Although an earlier effort to pass a Goodling-style prohibition in the Senate failed 87 to 13, Senator Ashcroft succeeded in convincing 39 senators to support an effort encouraging Appropriations Conferees to accept House/Goodling language in the final report. That means 26 votes “switched”! Ashcroft’s leadership on this issue in the Senate contributed to the victory of the cause of home schoolers in the final negotiations.
     Funding for national testing is prohibited for one year except for a series of National Academy of Sciences Studies already under contract with the Department of Education. Now the battle moves to passing Congressman Goodling’s stand-alone bill, H.R. 2846 and Senator Ashcroft’s S. 1215 which would permanently prohibit spending federal education funds on national testing without explicit and specific authorizing legislation.
     “This fight is not over,” Senator Ashcroft—who threatened to filibuster the appropriations bill if it included funds for testing—told the press, “I believe that federalized testing of all students should be permanently prohibited by law. The Clinton federal student test should be shredded, bagged, and hauled to the nearest dump.”
     Because this appropriations bill expires September 30, 1998, Ashcroft warned conservatives to be ready for the specter of national testing to revisit the halls of Congress, “I am confident that the President and his allies will be back in their effort to take power away from parents, teachers, and community school boards, seeking to place more power over our schools in the hands of bureaucrats in Washington.” But he continued, “I will do everything in my power to build on today’s victory and permanently bar federal testing.”
     Both Congressman Goodling’s H.R. 2846 and Senator Ashcroft’s S. 1215—legislation which would ban national testing—will be considered early next year.
     HSLDA thanks each and every home school family who fervently prayed and faithfully labored in this fight against federal control of testing. Once again, the Lord has graciously blessed our efforts and shown His mighty hand of protection is still on the home schooling movement.
     Following is a summary of the major provisions of the final Goodling amendment included in the appropriations bill.


Conference Agreement on National Testing Prohibition

Stops National Testing in Fiscal Year (FY) 1998.

  • No Federal funds may be used to field test, pilot test, implement, administer or distribute in any way, any national tests in FY 1998.
No Required Testing of Individuals or Mandated Participation of Private Schools, Home Schools, or Parochial Schools.
  • No student is required to take any national test in any subject or grade.
  • No federal, state, or local educational agency may require any private or parochial school student, or home schooled individual, to take any pilot or field test without the written consent of the parents or legal guardians of the student or individual.
National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Studies.
  • NAS will conduct three studies and submit written reports to Congress and the White House on its findings.
  • The first NAS study will determine whether an equivalency scale can be developed that would allow test scores from commercially available standardized tests, state assessments and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, to be compared with one another.
  • The second NAS study will evaluate the technical quality, validity, reliability, design, and racial, cultural, or gender bias of test items already developed by the Department of Education.
  • The third NAS study will recommend appropriate safeguards to ensure that tests are not used in a discriminatory or inappropriate manner.