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Washington Briefs

OCR Questions Legality Of Test Overreliance

WASHINGTON — The Clinton administration has tinkered further with its guidelines on standardized testing, but the overall message is still clear: Excessive use of tests could prompt legal challenges against colleges.
The Education Department in mid-December released its latest version of draft guidance on standardized measures such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test. An earlier department guide drew sharp criticism from conservatives and some college officials, who called it overly intrusive into colleges’ affairs.
Similar to the earlier guide, the department’s latest recommendations still note the potential dangers of an overreliance on testing.
“A test score disparity among groups of students does not constitute discrimination under federal law,” says Norma Cantú, assistant secretary of education at the department’s Office for Civil Rights. However, the key question in the use of standardized tests is whether all students have received “quality instruction, sufficient resources and the kind of learning environment that would foster success.”
OCR’s guide goes on to cite research showing that neither the SAT or ACT test “measures the full range of abilities that are needed to succeed in college. … Moreover, these tests are neither complete or precise measures of merit — even academic merit.”
The guide, however, contains a more detailed discussion of legal principles that apply to test use and expanded sections on test measurements and legal issues compared with the earlier version, ED officials say.
Standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT have faced opposition among many advocates of color who say that African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities are at a disadvantage in such exams. But the reliance on the tests has prompted a two-part strategy among some groups. For example, though the NAACP has called for less reliance on tests, its leaders recently asked that state governments help students prepare for the exams.
This approach would resemble a new College Preparation Program in California, in which the state pays for exam tutoring for at-risk high school students.
The Education Department said it plans to meet with education groups this winter to discuss its testing guide, and the department will accept public comment through Jan. 18. After that date, OCR says it plans to submit the draft to the National Academy of Sciences’ board on testing and assessment.
For more information about the guide, The Use of Tests When Making High-Stakes Decisions for Students: A Resource Guide for Educators and Policymakers, contact ED at (202) 205-5557.

Bill Seeks $20,000 Tuition Tax Deduction

WASHINGTON — Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., has a new way to help families pay for college: Offer them a full tax deduction for tuition and loan interest.
Ford has proposed the Make College Affordable Act, which would allow individuals to claim up to $10,000 in tuition tax credits a year. Taxpayers, including those with more than one child in college, could claim up to $20,000 annually.
The bill would focus primarily on low- and middle-income families. The income cutoff would be $55,000 for a one-parent family and $85,000 for a joint tax return, with annual ceilings indexed for inflation.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., are among other Congressional Black Caucus members to join Ford in sponsoring the legislation, introduced as H.R. 2750. The bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for tax bills in that chamber.     

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