- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Students at J.E.B. Stuart High School who attended President Bush’s speech in their auditorium yesterday said they were thrilled with the national attention but less excited about the president’s call for more testing in upper grades.

“I was actually really impressed,” said senior Katy Fetsch, 17. “I’m not a full supporter of Bush, but I thought everything he said was really personable. He was hilarious, and he made everybody laugh.”

Mr. Bush used the visit to the Falls Church school to emphasize the importance of testing and expanding the No Child Left Behind Act, which is designed to raise achievement among poor and minority students. The expansion is the most ambitious item on the president’s slate of second-term education proposals.

“Testing is important,” Mr. Bush said. “Testing at high school levels will help us become more competitive as the years go by [and] make sure the diploma is not merely a sign of endurance, but the mark of a young person ready to succeed.”

Schools that do not make adequate yearly progress would be penalized.

“There is a significant achievement gap in America, and that is not right,” Mr. Bush said. “We are closing that gap.”

Valencia Vasquez, a 15-year-old sophomore, said the president was warm and likable but that his idea for more testing in high schools is “extreme.”

She said Advanced Placement classes and the International Baccalaureate program — a rigorous college preparatory course for ambitious high-school students — already include numerous tests.

“It’s extra stuff that’s not going to help anyone,” she said. “He should just leave it up to the state. But I thought it was cool that he made an effort to visit one of the government classes afterward.”

In 1997, J.E.B. Stuart was among the lowest-performing schools in Fairfax County, but met its academic goals under No Child Left Behind Act in the 2003-04 school year.

Mr. Bush wants to require states to test students annually in reading and math in grades three through 11, an expansion of the law he signed in 2002.

Mr. Bush also wants to give states $250 million to require that the 12th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress be administered every two years in each state in reading and math. The subjects are now administered every two years in grades four and eight.

Such testing would help policy-makers evaluate their school standards.

Shawn DeRose, the school’s assistant principal, said the No Child Left Behind Act “raises the expectations for student achievement on all sides — from administrators to teachers. And it provides a focus for teachers.”

Philip Bernhardt, a government and world history teacher, didn’t know whether more testing would solve all educational problems but said it would “provide a framework for teachers and students to achieve.”

Senior Caroline Kory, 17, agreed with Mr. Bush that accountability is needed but wanted a limit on who should be required to take the tests.

“With so many tests and so many non-English speakers at my school, how are they going to be expected to do well on them?” she asked. “It will just make it look like our school is failing. You have to have different expectations for each school.”

Federal spending on programs covered under No Child Left Behind has increased 40 percent since Mr. Bush took office, from $17.38 billion to $24.35 billion. But spending went up only 1.7 percent this year, about the same rate of increase for the entire Education Department.

Mr. Bush is proposing to provide $200 million annually for the “Striving Readers” literacy program.

The president asked Congress for $100 million for this fiscal year and received $25 million for the initiative, which provides grants to schools to give extra help to middle- and high-school students who have fallen behind in reading.

He also wants $45 million to encourage students to take more rigorous high-school courses and $500 million for states and school districts to reward teachers whose students show improved achievement.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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