- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Nine states have come together for the first time to develop a common high school math test, a move described by some as a step toward national educational standards.

State standards and tests based on them vary wildly for subjects as basic as math, English and science. This group of states has decided to share a test and standards for Algebra II, saying a subject like that shouldn’t vary across state lines.

The states are Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. They announced their effort yesterday. The states are still trying to figure out which students will be given the test in the short term, but eventually the test will likely be given to all students who take Algebra II.

All the states are considering making scores on the test available to college placement offices to help determine the level of course work that freshmen are prepared to take, according to Mike Cohen, president of Achieve Inc., a Washington-based nonprofit group that is helping design the standards.

Students typically take Algebra II in high school after taking a basic algebra course and geometry. Research has shown that students who complete Algebra II are much more likely to go on to earn a college degree. That has prompted more states to require the course for graduation for most of their students.

Mr. Cohen led a failed effort in the Clinton administration to develop national standards in a variety of subjects. But he said this is different, being a grass-roots effort rather than one being forced on states from Washington.

“This is a state-led effort to create consistent standards and assessments. It would not have happened if the federal government had tried to make that happen,” he said, and he expects additional states to join the nine.

“Viewed as a pilot, it is a big deal and I hope an important precedent,” said Chester Finn, a former assistant education secretary who runs the Fordham Foundation think tank in Washington. “You’d have to be joking to claim that Algebra II in Columbus, Ohio, means something different from Algebra II in Columbia, Missouri.”

The issue has gained attention since the passage of the federal 2002 No Child Left Behind law, which requires states to administer math and reading tests in grades three through eight and once in high school. The law says all children should be proficient, or generally working on grade level, by 2014. Many more students achieve proficiency on the state tests than on national math and reading tests — prompting many critics to say the states set their standards too low.

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