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75 Groups Sound Warning Over Expansion of Assessment

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Washington--Warning that plans to expand the National Assessment of Educational Progress may be "dangerous," a group of some 75 education and civil-rights groups and researchers has urged policymakers to resist such moves without "careful review and consideration."

In an "open letter" sent late last week to the Bush Administration, the Congress, and the nation's governors, the groups also called on naep to devote more of its resources to developing performance-based assessments.

The signers also urged the Congress to consider separating the governing board's budget from the overall naep budget.

"We are concerned that an expansion of naep could undermine the school-reform movement and impose unwarranted federal control over education," said D. Monty Neill, associate director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, which initiated the letter.

The letter adds that the signers "are not writing to oppose the national assessment, but to help ensure that it plays a constructive, not harmful, role in reforming our nation's educational systems."

In addition to FairTest, the letter's signers include the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the American Association of School Administrators, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the International Reading Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Council for the Social Studies, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

'War on Testing'?

Specifically, the letter cites a National Assessment Governing Board resolution, adopted in December, that outlines a proposal for the future of naep. That statement recommended, among other things, that all states participate in state-by-state comparisons of student achievement; that the prohibition on the use of naep data at the district and school level be lifted; and that naep test at least three subject areas each year.

In addition, the letter cites the governing board's decision to set appropriate achievement levels for each grade level tested.

These actions may be harmful, the letter charges, since they represent costly moves that may lead to a de facto national curriculum based on narrow, multiple-choice tests.

Rather than increasing scarce4funds to expand naep, the letter argues, "money used for more extensive testing could be better used to improve the quality of naep assessments."

Chester E. Finn Jr., chairman of naep's governing board, responded that the proposal to expand naep was merely a recommendation, made in response to requests by Undersecretary of Education Ted Sanders and two Senators, for what naep might become in the future.

He also charged that, despite the well-meaning tone, the letter was part of a "war on testing."

"While they often wear sheep's clothing," he said, "the wolves inside want to minimize and stanch completely the flow of outcomes data.''

--rr

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