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Nebraska's Student Tests Could Be Model for Nation

by Michaela Saunders

Nebraska's homegrown student evaluation system could be a model for
American schools, a national testing expert said Thursday.

Most states use standardized fill-in-the-bubble tests as they try to
measure what children know and can do.

Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open
Testing or FairTest, said a drawback of those often high-stakes tests is
that students "don't get that self-reflective awareness of themselves as
learners."

In Nebraska, each school district develops its own tests that match its
curriculum, in addition to using national tests to measure what students
learn in reading, math and science.

That system is the focus of a conference that concludes today at the
Hilton Omaha. The conference drew more than 300 participants from
Nebraska and seven other states.

Neill challenged Nebraskans to make sure Congress knows about its method
before the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, which is to
begin in 2007.

"You've got to go spread the word," he told the group. Nebraska's
educators need to say, "We are really doing some things differently in
Nebraska, and they're working."

FairTest, based in Cambridge, Mass., is a nonprofit organization that
advocates against the "misuses and flaws of standardized testing." Neill
said high-stakes exams tied to high school graduation or passing a grade
are examples of the misuse of testing.

Known as STARS, Nebraska's school-based, teacher-led assessment and
reporting system has already been a source of national debate. This
summer, federal education officials said Nebraska's system did not meet
the requirements of No Child Left Behind.

But last week STARS received "initial approval" from federal officials.
The state now must complete peer reviews of local tests and work to
improve testing of students learning English.

Neill said approval is a good sign. And changes to the federal education
law, when it is reauthorized, would allow other states to change their
systems.

State Education Commissioner Doug Christensen said he believes it is
just a matter of time before other states begin a shift toward a
Nebraska-style evaluation system.

"They're starting to reach the ceiling," he said of flattening test
scores in many states. "There's no where else to go with that methodology."

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— Michaela Saunders
Omaha World-Herald


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