Flip-Flopping Finn Mesmerizes NPR On National Testing

Filling a slow news day, NPR snuck in a piece on the push for national testing on New Year's Day (Conservatives Call for National Education Curriculum) but -- like many segments on this topic -- misses several key points. Journalistically, the piece opens misleadingly with references to national high school tests in other countries which aren't really the issue here (we have the SAT and ACT for that, as NPR admits late in the segment). Substantively, the piece wildly overstates the current level of interesting and momentum for national testing. (Can anyone say "Democratically- controlled Congress"?). Most annoyingly, it ignores the fact that it was Checker Finn -- currently the main proponent of national testing -- who opposed it so effectively a decade ago. What's changed since then, really, and how does Finn explain his flip-flop on the issue?


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Checker's history on standards is a little more complicated. He was a member of the National Council on Education Standards and Testing, whose 1992 report recommended national standards and a system of assessments that would measure progress toward the standards. He was the author of the most apt quip about Clinton's proposed voluntary national test ("conservatives don't like anything national, and liberals don't like anything about testing") but as I rfrecall his opposition faded once Clinton agreed to shift responsibility for the test from ED to NAGB. At least two of the options in the recent Fordham report are consistent with the NCEST position.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Alexander Russo said...

these are good points, and true as far as i know. the flip flop i meant to describe is not on the substance of whether he's for or against national standards but rather about his political analysis of their achievability.

he was a skeptic then, but is now a cheerleader. however, as i've been writing for at least a year now, i don't see that the political feasibility has improved much at all despite checker's conversion.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Spunky said...

We will have a national test. And it won't even take a vote of Congress. How? By adopting the ACT as the state exam for exiting high school.

As more states move to accept the ACT as the state exam we will have a defacto national exam. It's still a small number of states, (so far I think we have five states that use the ACT as their state exam.) but the President of the ACT is working hard to make it happen. My home state of Michigan adopted the ACT with WorkKeys a year or more ago. They will use the test for the first time in '07.

So while conservatives and liberals fight over terminology and methodology, the "reformers" in both parties who support this are moving forward. With budget constraints that many states are under, it will make economic sense to "outsource" their testing to a testing service like the ACT. And the ACT is only too willing to oblige them and gain the lions share of the lucrative testing market. Esepcially, when you realize that states are moving toward a tenth grade high school graduation test. A high stakes test will kill the need for the ACT unless of course they are the ones that are in control of that high-stakes test. So far their marketing campaign is worked in Michigan, Kentucky, Colorado, and a few other states.

The WorkKeys component that is also controlled by the ACT is implemented and used in over 20 states for employment skills testing so they've got clout in a few legislatures around the country.

(It's telling that the WorkKeys testing component is a required portion of the Michigan Merit Exam, which is now required for graduation along with the ACT.)

6:49 PM  
Blogger Alexander Russo said...

thanks for the info on michigan, spunky, but to my mind at least the ACT or SAT for high school students is an entirely different thing from a national test for elementary school kids, and we're nowhere near that.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Spunky said...

I agree we're no where near that point, yet. But the high school level is the first place where this is being implemented because that is where testing is taken most seriously. Once the Dept. of Ed. approves the ACT for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as the transition test from high school to college, it's just a matter of time before the ACT moves to take over testing at the elementary school level as well.

The desire is to create a "seamless" transition throughout a students academic career. A centralized testing mechanism is a key component to that happening. And you can bet the ACT would just love to get their hands in the very lucrative testing market at the lower levels of education.

(As a side note, Michigan is currently waiting for AYP approval for the new testing arrangement.)

It has taken about twelve years to move from the first steps taken in 1994 to the new MME testing arrangement with the ACT. My guess is once all the bugs are worked out, it won't take as long to make the transition at the elementary level. The selling feature will be that the state is already using it at the high school level, why not just let them handle it all. We'll see.

8:11 PM  

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