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Lessons for Obama's education goals in the SAT

The shakiness of the college admissions test is a warning about setting national standards for states.

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Test time: Which type of worker – those with college diplomas or those without – has suffered a higher rate of layoffs during this recession?

Answer: Those with no degree – two to three times more.

No wonder President Obama wants every American to have at least one year of higher education. He also wants the US to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

To achieve those goals won't be easy, and much depends on how students are tested.

His education secretary, Arne Duncan, first wants to make sure more students graduate from high school with a degree that will meet tough federal standards in order to help them be accepted by a college.

Alas, no federal standard now exists – despite the 2001 No Child Left Behind law that required states to meet goals set by the US Department of Education. The Bush administration decided to let each state set its own standards.

The result, says Mr. Duncan, was "extreme variation" and a "dumbing down" of state standards under pressure from politicians. Instead, "I want to be much tighter on the goal … college-ready, career-ready, international benchmark standards, very high bar," he told reporters at a June 10 breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.

Attempts to set a nationwide education standard have been made in the past.

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