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NAEP May Delay Report Detailing State-Level Data

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Atlanta--The National Assessment of Educational Progress may delay for three months its much-anticipated report on the first state-by-state comparisons of student achievement.

The results of the 1990 mathematics assessment, which include the state-level data, are scheduled to be released next June 6. As part of that report, NAEP's governing board had planned to compare the results against the first national standards for student achievement, which the board is currently considering.

But members of the board said at a meeting here last week that the June deadline was too tight to make a well-reasoned decision on the standards. In order to include the standards in the June report, board members said, the panel would have to notify the Educational Testing Service, NAEP's contractor, by the end of this month.

To give the panel more time to consider the standards--including allowing time to weigh comments from a public hearing on the issue--the board agreed to issue the achievement-level data in a separate report in September, perhaps as part of a report on progress toward national educational goals.

But, board members said, if the agency lacks the resources to issue a separate report, the panel will push back until September the report on the 1990 math assessment.

"We could stick to the timeline, no matter what," said Francie M. Alexander, associate superintendent of public instruction in California. "But I don't like that. I'm not comfortable with not crossing the t's and dotting the i's."

"I've never seen [June 6] as a magic time," added Mark D. Musick, president of
the Southern Regional Education Board and vice chairman of the NAEP governing board.

A Congressionally mandated project, NAEP has since 1969 tested a national sample of students on a range of subjects.

This year, for the first time, NAEP also conducted a pilot state-level assessment, in 8th-grade math, in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

In addition, the governing board, in an effort to improve the usefulness of NAEP data, adopted a plan to set national standards for achievement. In contrast to past NAEP reports, which simply described how students performed on the assessments, the new plan was aimed at comparing student performance against agreed-upon standards for what students at the "basic," "proficient," and "advanced" levels of achievement should know and be able to do.

The proposed standards for the math assessment, which were based on the recommendations of a panel of educators, business leaders, and public officials, were unveiled this month. (See Education Week, Nov. 21, 1990.)

Daniel L. Stufflebeam, a researcher hired to conduct an independent evaluation of the standard-setting process, told board members here that the effort is "important and worth pursuing."

But, he said, "a number of issues need to be resolved" before going ahead with the project.

In addition, he noted, there has been "insufficient public input" in the process, and the board's plan for a public hearing this week would allow too little time to consider the views of those testifying.

"If you go ahead with your current plan," said Mr. Stufflebeam, director of the evaluation center at Western Michigan University, "you'd basically get stakeholder input for one day on Nov. 26, and then reach a conclusion on Nov. 28 on releasing the levels."

"If you're serious about getting input, and using that input to improve the project," he continued, "you can't go ahead with the project on the 28th. That's too soon."

Although board members said they were confident that the process is valid, most said they agreed that the current timetable is too rushed to ensure the public that it is sound.

"Come June 7, there's going to be a great deal of scrutiny of the process," said the board's chairman, Richard A. Boyd. "When we come out and say, 'So many are basic, proficient, and advanced,' and the results are not good, the whole world is going to say, 'Who decided that?'"

Delaying the report by three months would give the board "time to iron out technical wrinkles," said Herbert J. Walberg, professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"If we try to make the June deadline, and we make a mistake, it will be a disaster," he said.

In addition, noted William T. Randall, commissioner of education in Colorado, by releasing the report in September, the board could link the NAEP achievement-level data with the report by the National Education Goals Panel. That panel, chaired by Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, is expected to issue its first report next Sept. 27, on the second anniversary of the education summit held by President Bush and the nation's governors.

Chester E. Finn Jr., professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University, said he agreed that linking the achievement-level data with the goals-monitoring report adds "pizzazz" to the NAEP report. But, he suggested, the governing board should obtain a commitment from Governor Romer's panel that they will use the data.

"If not," Mr. Finn said, "we should issue the whole report [on the 1990 math assessment] in September."
for 1994-96

In other action, the governing board also adopted a series of resolutions outlining what NAEP should look like in the 1994-96 testing cycle.

The recommendations, which were intended to advise the U.S. Education Department as it prepares to seek bids for contracts to operate NAEP during that period, call for expanding state-by-state assessments, testing students in at least three subjects each year, and removing the statutory prohibition on using NAEP data at the school-district and school levels, among other changes.

Several of the recommendations reaffirm policy positions the board adopted last year that sparked heated controversy in the testing field. For example, in a dramatic move, Pittsburgh's testing director pulled that district out of the 1990 state-level NAEP to protest the board's policies. (See Education Week, March 7, 1990.)

Mr. Musick said the resolutions were aimed at ensuring that the contract for the 1994-96 assessment can accommodate such changes if the Education Department and the Congress choose to adopt them.

"If we don't include in the request for proposals at least planning [for such changes] in 1994-96, there's no way they are likely to happen before 1997, 1998, or 1999," Mr. Musick said.

Bruno V. Manno, the deputy assistant secretary in the department's office of educational research and improvement, said department officials have expressed concern over some of the proposals, such as removing the prohibition on school and district use of NAEP data.

But he noted that the department would make a formal statement on the future of NAEP next February when it submits to the Congress a legislative proposal on reauthorizing the assessment.

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