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EDITORIAL: Testing is just one step toward improved education

Controversy continues to surround standardized test results, an element of the federal "No Child Left Behind" act. Many people believe the tests force educators to teach to the test. Others complain the tests actually aren't standard -- at least ...

Controversy continues to surround standardized test results, an element of the federal "No Child Left Behind" act. Many people believe the tests force educators to teach to the test. Others complain the tests actually aren't standard -- at least not from state to state -- making comparisons impossible.

But within each state, they produce enough valid information to prompt parents to ask hard questions. And they show public school administrators where their districts are weak.

The latest Wisconsin results indicate Maple School District performed above state average in almost all subject areas. The district's prowess is hardly a secret. Its enrollment has been growing for years.

Superior schools exhibited improvement in many subject areas, although more work is needed in math. Solon Springs was a mixed bag, with great performance in math but lagging proficiency in language arts. The Northwood district, results suggest, needs to bolster its K-4 programs -- a task already in progress.

And that's the point. When put under the microscope, district administrators are forced to make appropriate changes to improve performance.

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Unfortunately, they often receive insufficient state and federal funding. Educators can't solve all the learning problems that children face. Economic and other factors put some students at an immediate disadvantage. Although special education programs are mandated, they aren't fully funded. School districts walk a tightrope in trying to strike a funding balance that provides everyone an excellent education.

Mandatory tests serve their purpose, but they're just a starting point. Lawmakers must be held as accountable as educators and parents in bolstering student performance at a cost the public can afford. For too long, public education has been a political football that bounces back and forth between political parties, with rhetoric replacing logic when it comes time to make good decisions. Consistent, affordable, proactive policies are needed.

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