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Survey show big states are better at testing

May 07, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) - A study of public school tests finds large states have created better education monitoring standards than smaller states that operate with limited budgets. It suggests smaller states raise their standards by pooling their resources.

The survey, released Monday by the Princeton Review, a test-preparation company, ranked New York as the best test-giver in the nation, followed by Massachusetts and Texas.

The bottom of the list is dominated by small states that buy their tests from companies rather than create their own systems. Montana was ranked 50th, just below Rhode Island and South Dakota.

"We can't comment on what we haven't seen," said Montana assistant superintendent Nancy Coopersmith. "I'm not aware that Montana is ranked 50th in anything, but we certainly will look into it."

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Standardized testing for elementary and high school students has become a major issue around the country, with many states still in the early stages of creating programs designed to track school successes and failures.

Princeton Review vice president Steven Hodas, who oversaw the annual study called "Testing the Testers 2003," said the survey generally gave high marks to states that consider test results as part of a wide list of criteria, and those that conduct open processes that allow parents to review the tests afterward.

"The good news is that in terms of test quality, most states have that nailed down pretty well," Hodas said.

The study also found, however, that many still lag in reporting results quickly back to students, parents and teachers, and some do not allow public scrutiny of the process in the interest of year-to-year improvement.

"It's not some magic rocket science for the tests to be made public every year, for parents or reporters to be able to see the contract for the tests," said Hodas. "You just have to decide that it's important, and do it."

He acknowledged many small states start with a competitive disadvantage under The Princeton Review's ranking system because, lacking the money to create their own testing programs, they buy tests from private contractors.

Rhode Island, for example, buys some of its tests and was ranked 49th.

Elliot Krieger, a spokesman for the state's education system, said he had not seen results of the survey but noted his state is not allowed to release tests bought from a company.

Hodas suggested the solution for many of the small states is to band together to create multistate testing consortiums, which he said could raise standards across state lines.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said her state's number-three ranking was due in part to the speed that test results are given back to schools and students. They usually get scores within 10 days, Ratcliffe said.

In Texas, tests are given from grades three through 11, beginning with writing and math skills in the lower grades, then adding science and social studies in high school.

"We've just begun a new generation of testing in the state, and (this survey) is a confirmation about the quality of our new program," Ratcliffe said.

The testing program judged most successful, New York's, tests fourth and eighth graders in English and math and is phasing in a mandatory regents testing program for all high school students.

New York officials would not comment on the results.

Nationally, Hodas said, statewide testing "is still in the primitive ... knives and bearskins stage" but said mandatory testing is important to raising standards.

"You can't improve what you can't measure," Hodas said.

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