The following editorial appeared in today's San Jose Mercury News:
When President Bush unfurled his sweeping plan for education reform, he relied heavily on standardized testing to measure performance.
Mandating annual nationwide assessments in reading and math, Bush argued, would increase accountability at public school districts that receive federal dollars. Throughout the presidential campaign, Bush insisted the tests were key to comparing the quality - or lack thereof - among school campuses and among states.
The immediate cry from some conservative Republicans and educators was fierce: No more tests. In response, Bush has backed off in a move that was as prudent as it was political.
"So long as there is a viable accountability system, where states are able to show progress and where states can show ... that there is a consequence - then that's fine by me," Bush said recently.
In states like California, where standardized tests are already in place, there was concern that Bush would push for yet another exam. That would be taxing and unwarranted, and exacerbate concerns that schools are teaching to the test.
Several GOP members were poised to reject any plan that included mandated testing. Educators from coast to coast resisted what they saw as federal intrusion on "local control." And teachers, according to a recent nationwide survey, overwhelmingly said public schools already place too much emphasis on standardized tests.
By negotiating on the cornerstone of his proposal, the president is signaling a willingness to compromise to push through his school reform agenda.
Bush has already come under fire for the most controversial aspect of his plan - to provide $1,500 vouchers to help students from low-income families escape chronically failing schools. Here, too, Bush has said he isn't wedded to the idea, especially if it threatens the passage of his overall plan.
Ultimately, Bush's emphasis on quality education, particularly for the poor, and his desire to bring pressure to bear on schools that don't measure up, are important. With so many schools failing our children, the move toward greater accountability is understandable.
But forcing another test in the name of reform could come at the expense of the broader curriculum while stifling classroom creativity and innovation in the process. The Bush plan would be stronger and more appealing without it.