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NAEP Unveils National Math Achievement Standards

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WASHINGTON--The National Assessment Governing Board late last week unveiled what could become the first set of national standards for student achievement in mathematics in grades 4, 8, and 12.

The 12-page report, presented to the board by an ad hoc panel that met last summer to draw up the standards, outlines what students at the "basic," "proficient," and "advanced" levels of achievement should know and be able to do at each grade level.

If the board approves the document, it will report the results of the 1990 National Assessment of Educational Progress mathematics assessment--the first to include state-level performance data--by comparing students' actual performance against the standards. In the past, NAEP has simply described how students performed on the assessment.

"We believe NAGB's effort is one of the most important ever undertaken to describe what American students ought to know and be able to do in key grades," said Roy E. Truby, the board's executive director. "It should also increase greatly the usefulness of NAEP survey results as a yardstick of educational achievement."

Mary Lyn Bourque, assistant director of the NAGB, called the panel's recommendations "good, solid standards" that reflect what the board had intended when it agreed in May to set them.

"They said 'proficient' means demonstrating competency over challenging subject matter," she said. "The panel tried to find challenging subject matter in the asnt, and set standards at that level."

A federally funded project currently operated by the Educational Testing Service under contract to the Education Department, NAEP has since 1969 tested a national sample of students in reading, writing, math, science, and other subjects.

In 1990, for the first time, NAEP also conducted a pilot state-level assessment in 8th-grade math in 37 states and the District of Columbia. The results of that assessment, expected to be released next June, will provide the first state-by-state comparisons of student-achievement data.

The plan to set achievement levels, adopted by the governing board in May, was aimed at making the data more useful for the public and policymakers, board members said.

However, because states signed up for the state-level assessment before the board's vote, they will have the option of releasing their data using the achievement levels or using NAEP's previous scale.

The report released last week was the result of a process that began in August, when a group of 63 educators, business leaders, and public officials met in Vermont to review test items and determine the probability that students at each level of achievement should be able to answer them. (See Education Week, Sept. 5, 1990.)

Last week, 11 members of the panel met here to review the panel's results and to write descriptions of the three achievement levels and select representative test questions to illustrate them.

Despite the fears of some panel members, Ms. Bourque noted, the group was for most grade levels able to set coherent standards that draw clear distinctions among the different levels of achievement.

However, she noted, the gap between proficient and advanced performance, particularly at grade 12, is fairly small.

"That's partly a function of the assessment," she said. "There are not a lot of advanced items."

In addition, she noted, the 12th-grade standards may be somewhat easier to meet than those in the other grades, because many of the questions at that grade level are also included on the 8th-grade test.

This problem may be alleviated in future assessments, she suggested. If the board continues to report results in this way, Ms. Bourque said, the panels that write test questions will consider the achievement levels in determining which questions to include.

Moreover, she noted, the board may decide to change the panel's recommendations. While the board was expected to consider the report on the achievement levels at its quarterly meeting in Atlanta late last week, it was not expected to approve it until after a public hearing on the issue, which is scheduled to be held here Nov. 26.

The panel's report concludes that, at grade 4, students at the basic level should "begin to develop strategies to solve mathematical problems as well as be able to solve routine problems involving addition and subtraction, with and without the calculator."

Those at the proficient level, it states, "should have an understanding of numbers and their application to life situations as well as an understanding of measurement," while advanced 4th graders "should be able to demonstrate flexibility in solving problems and relating knowledge to new situations."

At grade 8, it states, students performing at the basic level should "understand the relationamong fractions, decimals, and percents and be able to use appropriate measurement instruments," while those at the proficient level "should be able, with and without a calculator, to solve problems using fractions, decimals, percents, rates, proportions, similar figures, algebraic formulas and functions, and understand and use exponents."

Advanced 8th graders, it says, should be able to apply such concepts as scientific notation and elementary number theory, solve problems involving surface areas and charts and graphs, and draw and construct plane and solid elementary geometric figures.

Students at the basic level inrade, the report states, should demonstrate an understanding of whole numbers and fractions and decimals, and should understand measurement concepts associated with time, money, and length.

Those at the proficient level, it states, should "have conceptual knowledge of numbers in problem-solving applications with percents, integers, and rational numbers, including appropriate scientific-calculator usage," while advanced 12th graders should "demonstrate creative and logical thinking" on such problems.

Free copies of the report and information about next week's public hearing are available from the National Assessment Governing Board, 1100 L St., N.W., Suite 7322, Washington, D.C. 20005-4013.

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