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College Testing Faces Hurdles
Education chair backtracks on standardized tests for college students
Published On Thursday, April 06, 2006  4:05 AM
A chair of the federal higher education commission has backed away from a suggestion that Congress should require colleges to administer standardized tests to students.

The commissioner’s remarks may put an end to concerns that students at Harvard and other colleges could face federally-mandated standardized tests during their undergraduate career.

Charles Miller, the chair of the Secretary of Education’s Commission of the Future of Higher Education, wrote in an e-mail to fellow commission members last month that there was “no intent, no expectation” to mandate standardized testing of college students, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported Friday.

Miller had previously suggested that the commission might advise Congress to withhold funding from colleges who did not administer standardized tests.

The suggestion drew criticism from higher education officials. The Presidents of MIT, Tufts University and Boston University spoke out against mandated standardized testing at a public meeting of the commission last month.

The commission, which was created last year to develop higher education policy proposals, will release a report of its recommendations in August.

Harvard’s senior director of federal and state relations, Kevin Casey, said that he had “hoped and assumed” that the commission would not ultimately endorse the suggestion to mandate standardized testing.

Casey said that American higher education is “the envy of the world.”

“Part of it is because of the limited level of direct intrusion into curriculum by the government,” he said.

According to a paper by Miller and University of Texas administrator Geri Malandra posted on the commission’s website, accountability is a pressing issue because college academic standards are becoming “diluted.”

“At Harvard in 1950, for example, about 15 percent of students got a B+ or better: today the average is 70 percent,” Miller and Malandra wrote.

The paper presses for a “consumer-oriented, nationwide system” that would provide students, parents, and policy makers with the data they need to compare the quality of different colleges.

—Staff writer Lois E. Beckett can be reached at lbeckett@fas.harvard.edu.

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