To President-elect George W. Bush's credit, he favors the annual assessment of children's performance in public school, the better to see how youngsters are learning and how teachers are teaching.
Democrats also support such a plan, though they prefer a national testing plan rather than 50 different plans in 50 different states. Since federal funds are significant to this exercise, a federal standard is justified.
The tests make sense, not as the sole measure of what children in certain age groups have learned over a certain period and the success of their teachers in imparting it, but as one of many indices.
An analysis of the tests must eventually go from general to particular. Children aren't widgets extruded from an education machine. They aren't all alike. They have developmental differences that result in their learning different things at different times. This must be taken into consideration.
Tests can be used as one measure of school and teacher accountability, but only one, and as one measure of student application to the task, but again, only one. They are snapshots in time.
Mr. Bush shows wisdom in his conviction that the federal government ought to make sure every child reads and puts up money to make that happen. It makes sense, too, to funnel those funds through local school districts, perhaps via state departments of education.
But to assess the effectiveness of a national testing mandate, there must be one national test on which all American children are rated. Otherwise, there's no point.