November 11, 2008
SEATTLE — Here’s another big development: As part of its new approach, the Gates Foundation will advocate for the politically thorny goal of national standards — and will aim to write its own standards and its own national test.
Foundation officials said that the moves are motivated by their frustration with current tests and standards for what children should know, which each state drafts individually as part of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Vicki Phillips, the Gates Foundation’s director of education programs, said the result is a “testing crisis in this country,” in which tests are losing credibility among teachers, who see them as so low-quality that they are useless.
“Let’s admit it,” she said. “We can’t dispense with assessment, but neither can we keep adding low-quality tests.”
How will the foundation jump into the fight? They’ll start with standards, working with states and school districts to develop a common set. Phillips said the goal will be to make the standards “fewer, clearer, higher” and to make sure they match what students need to know to succeed in college.
The next step will be to help create tests. Phillips said the foundation will usher a few trial assessments into development, and then test them out to see which are best at predicting whether students succeed in college. (From what I understand, this would involve having students take the test when they enter college and then following them through the process, to see whether high scores predict college completion.)
Whichever test wins, Phillips said, the Gates Foundation will make it available to any state who is interested — at no cost.