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NAEP To Assess Cultural Literacy

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An assessment of high-school students' "cultural" literacy--their knowledge of history and literature--will be conducted next year in a project jointly sponsored by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Educational Excellence Network at Vanderbilt University.

"The project will, for the first time, supply systematic information about the extent to which these very important subjects are being learned by the young adults of tomorrow," said Chester E. Finn Jr., professor of education and public policy and head of the network.

Mr. Finn and Diane Ravitch, adjunct professor of history at Columbia University's Teachers College, will direct the "Foundations of Literacy" project. They designed it, Ms. Ravitch said, in response to a call by the neh for proposals "to assess the quality of humanities education."

Lack of Information

"Without reliable information about the knowledge that our young people actually possess in these core disciplines of the humanities, we lack a necessary reference point against which to gauge educational improvement," said William J. Bennett, chairman of the neh and President Reagan's choice to become secretary of education.

According to Mr. Bennett, there is little comprehensive information on the degree to which high-school students are prepared for citizenship and acquainted with American culture.

The co-directors of the project approached naep officials with the idea of including an assessment of American history and world literature in the 1985-86 national assessment, according to Ina Mullis, associate director of naep. The naep policy board ap-proved the project last fall.

The proposal then was submitted to the neh, which awarded a $369,636 grant to the Educational Excellence Network, an organization that Ms. Ravitch describes as "a group of scholars and practitioners interested in school improvement." Literacy test items will be included in the regularly scheduled 1985-86 national assessment, a Congressionally mandated program that regularly surveys the educational attainments of 9-, 13-, and 17-year-old students. Only 17-year-olds will be tested as part of the "Foundations of Literacy" project.

The 1985-86 assessment will also test students' ability in reading, mathematics, science, and--for the first time--computer competency. (See Education Week, Dec. 5, 1984.)

Committee Participation

Assisting naep in the selection of learning objectives and test items for the literacy project will be two committees, one in each subject area. The committees, selected jointly by the project directors, naep, and the neh, include college and school representatives.

E.D. Hirsch Jr., a member of the project's literature group, also is in the process of developing a test to assess students' cultural literacy. The first phase in his project, developing a definition of cultural literacy, was funded by a $25,000 grant from the Exxon Corporation; the second phase was funded by a $179,000 grant from the neh The network's project will "supplement" his work, Mr. Hirsch said.

Mr. Finn and Ms. Ravitch are also seeking suggestions from educators about "the specific elements of knowledge that ought to be included" in the assessment.

Comments should be addressed to the Educational Excellence Network, 1208 18th Ave. South, Nashville, Tenn. 37212.

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