The proposal by the National Alliance of Business to establish a framework for improved national student assessments is a welcome addition to the discussion on how best to educate America's children to meet the demands they'll face in the 21st century.

The proposal's objective is for every student to leave school with a demonstrated ability to read, write, compute and perform at world class levels in general school subjects - and also to be able to learn, think and work effectively both in groups and alone.Educators appreciate this effort among business leaders to define the standards of competence for entry into the work force.

Such standards serve students and education by fixing a goal against which individual student achievement and the accomplishments of education providers can be evaluated.

This kind of opportunity to be accountable has never existed before and is compatible with the view of accountability that the NEA seeks to encourage.

This view holds that true accountability must rely upon information about student performance, so that steps can be taken for improvement. In other words, educational decisionmaking must be informed by accurate, current information.

The National Alliance of Business proposal can be viewed in this light. The assessment it calls for would provide information about student readiness - either for college or for the world of work. This kind of assessment is a much-needed departure from current inadequate systems of accountability.

Traditional assessment programs have relied heavily on a single measure-standardized multiple-choice tests. The unfortunate result has been that, all too often, educators have missed the opportunity to develop talent and potential in the many students who don't perform well on such tests.

The concepts advanced in the NAB report facilitate the development of assessment systems that provide a variety of ways for students to demonstrate knowledge and skills. Further, the NAB proposal does not call for a single national test, but rather for commonly held standards of performance and competence, demonstrated through a broadly understood system of diverse assessment techniques.

The NAB proposal advocates student assessment over a period of years, perhaps beginning as early as entrance to middle school.

This cumulative assessment has several advantages over a single series of examinations. It would help organize and motivate students over an extended period of time.

Cumulative assessment provides multiple opportunities for success rather than a single high-stakes moment of possible failure. It enhances opportunities for the undereducated and undermotivated to achieve high educational standards at their own pace, because the criteria for the assessment would not vary, regardless of the student's age. This approach leaves the door open for students to enter when ready.

We in the National Education Association appreciate the chance to work with American businesses on the crucial tasks of improving student achievement and, equally important, establishing a better school-to-work transition for students who do not go to college.

Most importantly, the NAB proposal demonstrates that the education and business communities are listening to each other. The linkages necessary for powerful collaborations are being forged. We are united in our determination to prepare our children to meet the challenges of the future.