Federal test guide provokes controversy

(U-WIRE) NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Officials at the Department of Education did not expect their draft guidelines on standardized tests to cause great stir. But once ethnic groups, conservative publications and educational lobbyists read the document, it became ground zero for America’s latest cultural and political struggle.

Drafted in April and circulated in June, the Department’s pamphlet, “Nondiscrimination in High-Stakes Testing: A Resource Guide,” summarizes recent court decisions regarding the use of standardized tests at all levels of education from elementary schools to universities.

After receiving the complaints, Education Department officials established a new process to obtain diverse opinions and draft a new document.

Rodger Murphy, a spokesman for the department’s Office of Civil Rights, said the guide was meant to inform educators and policy-makers, not to regulate them.

“It’s a resource guide designed to help schools understand the issue and to help them from being exposed to civil rights complaints and suits,” Murphy said.

The American Council on Education, an association of about 1,800 colleges and universities, joined standardized test authors objecting to the department’s process.

“Initially the problem was the Department of Education sprung the whole production on us,” ACE Senior Vice President Terry Hartle said. “Surprising interest groups that follow an agency is always risky.”

Murphy said the Department of Education had no plans to write more rules and restrictions for America’s colleges.

“It’s not a guideline, it’s just a resource guide,” he said. “We’re not issuing any new regulations.”

But Hartle said the distinction is meaningless outside of Washington because the appearance of violating federal guidelines could hurt colleges.

Hartle said differentiating between a mere resource guide and full-blown regulations is “the sort of distinction that a federal bureaucrat might make, but not a distinction that will make a whole lot of difference in the field.”

Interested parties may have been quick to react to the Education Department’s draft because the issue of standardized testing is among the most contentious in all of education.

-Ben Trachtenberg, Yale Daily News

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