N.A.E.P. Ready To Report State Scores
Washington--The executive director of the National Assessment of Educational Progress told a House subcommittee last week that the federally financed testing program is prepared to provide states with the means to measure student achievement on an interstate basis.
"This is a truly exciting development that would not have been conceivable five years ago," the director, Archie E. Lapointe, told members of the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education. "When naep was planned in 1969, it was deliberately designed to exclude the possibility of comparing states6one to another. I think it's a tribute to a new level of political and professional courage that today's state educational and political leaders are aggressively seeking this kind of information."
Controversial Wall Chart
Debate over state-by-state comparisons of educational progress reached a high point in January following Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell's release of a controversial "wall chart." Among other things, the chart ranked states by their students' average scores on college-entrance examinations, by student-teacher ratios, and by per-pupil spending. (See Education Week,Jan. 11, 1984.)
A number of educators claimed that the document inaccurately portrayed the performance of state educational systems. Much of the criticism centered on the chart's use of a 10-year comparison of test scores as a barometer of progress.
Among those critics was Mr. Lapointe, who noted during a hearing before the House subcommittee in early February that students who take the entrance examinations are not representative of all students in the nation's schools. (See Education Week, Feb. 8, 1984.)
Others who testified during the hearing, including former U.S. Commissioners of Education Harold Howe 2nd and Frank Keppel, suggested that naep data would be more suitable for state-by-state comparisons.
"A few months ago when we were asked about its possible use for this purpose, our skepticism suggested we check the validity of this request and the extent of interest as well as any possible opposition," Mr. Lapointe told the subcommittee during last week's hearing. During the past eight months, he said, the naep staff has discussed the matter with leaders of several prominent educational and political organizations, including the two major teachers' unions, the national governors' and state legislators' associations, and the chief state school officers' and state boards' organizations.
"There is absolute unanimity," Mr. Lapointe said. "They all agree that naep could uniquely and appropriately provide this service."
In response to a question from one subcommittee member, Mr. Lapointe acknowledged that the state leaders' apparent willingness to accept state-by state comparisons represents a fairly dramatic turnaround from their position on the issue less than a year ago.
The reason for the shift is twofold, he said. "They feel responsible and are anxious to find models for improving their own systems," he explained. "And they would welcome the challenge of open and fair comparisons since they will inevitably be made."
According to Mr. Lapointe, the adaptation of the national assessment to permit the data to be used in this way would require a one-time-only additional appropriation of $500,000 and an annual maintenance cost of $300,000.
States Given Option
States, he said, would be offered the option of conducting concurrent assessments of their students with naep every two years at an estimated cost of $200,000. "They could then compare their results with national statistics and with perform-ance levels of other states that choose to participate," Mr. Lapointe continued.
(Under current law, the naep is required to assess student achievement in reading, mathematics, and writing every five years. Mr. Lapointe suggested that the law be amended to require assessments of reading and mathematics every two years and assessments of science, writing, and social science every four years.)
During an interview following the hearing, Mr. Lapointe said that if federal funding is made available and if "at least 5 to 10 states show an interest in the option," the first state-by-state comparisons could be provided to states participating in the option shortly after the next scheduled national assessment in 1986.
He added, however, that the naep organization has no plans to make the comparisons readily available to the public, as Mr. Bell did with his wall chart.
"The task of pulling all of that material together for publication will have to be left to some enterprising reporter, for example," he said.