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Governors Urge NAEP Expansion To Compare States

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Washington--The nation's governors last week passed a resolution urging that the National Assessment of Educational Progress be expanded to enable state-by-state, and even district-by-district, comparisons of student performance.

The resolution, which passed in the form of an amendment to the governor's education-goals statement, shows just how far the states' chief executives have come in their willingness to be held accountable for education results.

According to the statement, introduced by Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, chairman of the National Education Goals Panels, "the governors strongly support the expansion of naep to enable individual states to participate regularly, on a voluntary basis, in a full range of assessments."

In addition, it states, the governors support the use of naep to assess "representative samples of students" below the state level on a voluntary basis.

Current legislation authorizes the use of naep for state-by-state comparisons only through 1992 and bans all comparisons below that level.

Many view the ability to use naep for making state-by-state comparisons as crucial for measuring progress on the national education goals between now and the year 2000.

But at a meeting of the National Education Goals Panel, held here last week in conjunction with the National Governors' Association conference, it became apparent that naep probably will not become the long-term vehicle for assessing progress on the education goals.

According to an interim report from the panel's resource group on student achievement--one of five groups set up to advise the panel on how to measure progress on the goals--naep provides the nation's "best currently available data on student achievement."

It recommends that, at least for now, naep be expanded to include testing in all major subjects--including math, science, English, history, and geography--as often as once every two years at the 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade levels.

These results should be made available by state and perhaps school district, the group advises, if this can be done reliably within the exam's current matrix-sampling system.

In addition, it advocates that proficiency levels be set and reported on in each subject. But it cautions against turning the exam into a8''high stakes" test that students are directly trained to pass.

For the long term, the resource group probably will advocate the development of a new nationwide assessment system focused on high levels of achievement, tied to specific curriculum goals, and designed to be studied for by students.

In the past few months, a number of organizations have called for the creation of some type of national examination system. (See Education Week, Jan. 30, 1991.)

Unlike some of these other proposals, however, the resource group does not recommend creating a single national test.

Instead, it proposes creating a series of national standards and "anchor" exams in various subjects to which state and regional tests could be calibrated.

Such an approach would leave states, and even local school districts, free to create their own tests as long as they met the national standards. Those standards would be developed by a new national board, in cooperation with the states.

The proposal, presented to the panel by the resource group's chairman, Lauren B. Resnick, director of the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh, is similar to one now beel10ling advanced by the lrdc and the National Center on Education and the Economy.

It appears to have the strong support of Governor Romer, who in recent weeks has referred to it as an "educational cat scan" that would set national standards while preserving local autonomy.

But Ms. Resnick warned that such an assessment system probably will not be available until the end of the decade. Until then, her group probably will recommend using data from naep, Advanced Placement tests, and high-school course enrollments in such subjects as advanced math.

In addition, the resource group may propose the creation of a new national poll of the education system's clients--including employers, postsecondary institutions, students, and parents--on an annual or biannual basis, to track their satisfaction with the nation's educational achievement.

States should also be asked to report on the systemic changes they are making to improve student learning, Ms. Resnick said, including their work on alternate forms of assessment.

Presenters from the four other resource groups were even less san4guine that much outcome data would be available in time for the first report card on the nation's education goals, scheduled to be released in September.

A warning from Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and chairman of the resource group on school readiness, that the panel will probably have to rely on input measures--such as the degree to which children have received adequate nutrition--in lieu of outcome measures drew the wrath of several governors, who were concerned that the panel was too readily abandoning its commitment to focus on results.

Mr. Boyer cautioned, however, that there is still no definition of what it means to come to school ready to learn and no set of instruments that would be ready to measure such performance by this fall.

During the meeting, Governor Romer also announced that the panel will form a sixth resource group to advise it on measuring progress on reducing the nation's dropout rate.

Final reports from all six resource groups are due on Feb. 15. During February and March, the panel plans to conduct an extensive outreach effort to get people's reactions to their recommendations.

A final decision about the format for the first report card--and the information that will be needed from the states--will be made in April.

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