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Standardized tests -- gauge of whether US schools are improving

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Remember your teacher telling you to be sure to bring a No. 2 pencil, because you were going to take a standardized test; that it was necessary to fill in the entire circle corresponding to the multiple-choice answer you chose; that any stray mark on the page would mean the grading machine would automatically mark your answer as wrong?

For the rest of the 1980s not only American teachers, but a wary public -- dubious about anything short of concrete evidence that schools and students are improving -- will be relying on scores from standardized tests of students, and sometimes of teachers, for proof of educational progress.

In the aftermath of numerous national education studies (nine since last spring), the outpouring of concern about American schools is at a new peak. Though the exact outcome of many of the proposed reforms in uncertain, one thing is clear: Standardized tests will play an increasingly important role in the monitoring of educational performance.

In the next few years standardized tests will receive attention from three directions:

* The courts, Congress, and state legislatures will continue to scrutinize such tests to make sure civil rights aren't being violated by them.

"Testing is now a regulated industry," Donald N. Bersoff, a nationally recognized lawyer in test use and the law, told an Educational Testing Service conference here in late October on the uses and misuses of tests. Courts will continue to be active in areas where tests used by public schools are "claimed to be tools of discrimination or deny full realization of the rights of racial and ethnic minorities and the handicapped," said Dr. Bersoff, who also holds a doctorate in educational testing.

Nearly 40 states now use some kind of competency examination. About 25 states require students to pass such a test before they can graduate.


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