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Published in Print: April 3, 1991, as Panel Unveils Proposed Assessments To Measure Progress Toward Goals

Panel Unveils Proposed Assessments To Measure Progress Toward Goals

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The National Education Goals Panel last week unveiled a plan to create a national assessment system to measure progress toward the national education goals for the year 2000.

At a meeting here, the panel of governors and Bush Administration officials released a report by its six resource groups, which proposed data that might be included in the 1991 "report card," as well as measures that might be created for future reports. The panel is expected to decide on the proposals in June, following a series of regional hearings.

The groups proposed that the 1991 goals report, which is expected to be released in September, include a variety of existing data, such as health statistics, dropout figures, and scores on the state-level National Assessment of Educational Progress tests.

Summary of resource groups' recommendations on Page 18.

But the groups also recommended that the panel create a set of new measures, which could become a kind of national definition of educational progress.

The suggested measures include a national assessment system to measure student achievement in key subject areas, a "child-development profile" to gauge children's readiness for schooling, and a student-identification system to track students across districts and states.

Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, chairman of the goals panel, said the panel's reports would present "authentic measures" of the state of American education that would spur parents, educators, and policymakers to improve it.

"I don't think the worry should be that the report will be overly glowing and rosy," he said at a press conference here. "It will not be glowing and rosy. But it is a motivation to improve."

Panel members declined to say how much the new assessments would cost or who would pay for them. Such concerns, said Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, are like "putting a sticker on the window of a car before putting the car in the showroom."

"The first thing is to say what we need and create it," Mr. Alexander said. "Once we make the case for what we need, getting money won't be a problem."

First enunciated in President Bush's 1990 State of the Union Message and adopted a month later by the National Governors' Association, the national education goals set ambitious targets for improving student and school performance by the year 2000.

By that date, the chief executives pledged: All children will start school ready to learn; the high-school-graduation rate will increase to 90 percent; students will demonstrate competency in challenging subject matter; U.S. students will be first in the world in science and mathematics achievement; every adult American will be literate; and every school will be free of drugs and violence.

As part of its effort to monitor progress toward the goals, the goals panel—which is made up of six governors, three top White House officials, and the Secretary of Education—named "resource groups" of experts to help define the goals and come up with suggestions for measures of progress.

The groups were asked to recommend measures that might be included in the first report, which is expected to be issued in September, the second anniversary of the Charlottesville, Va., summit between President Bush and the governors that led to the creation of the goals.

They were also asked to "suggest a vision, unconstrained by the limitations of current data, of what would be desirable and needed for progress reports in the future," according to the groups' report, "Measuring Progress Toward the National Education Goals: Potential Indicators and Measurement Strategies."

But Governor Romer noted that the groups' suggestions are only one possible set of recommendations. The goals panel also plans to hold hearings to solicit comments from educators and the general public on what the measures should be, Mr. Romer said.

"The resource [groups'] document is not the position of the panel," he noted. "It represents options."

Although the governors at the meeting here referred to the progress reports as "report cards," the report proposes that the progress reports include a broad range of measures for each goal.

In the area of school readiness, the resource group recommended that data be collected in three stages—before school, at school entrance, and during kindergarten. Most of the information is not currently available, according to the report.

Ernest L. Boyer, convener of the resource group, said the data should evaluate children across five dimensions: physical well-being, emotional maturity, social confidence, language richness, and general knowledge.

"In education, readiness is not based on intellectual skills alone,'' said Mr. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

To assess children's readiness for schooling, the report proposes that the panel collect data on children's preschool condition, including their health and nutrition, home and parenting factors, and preschool programs.

Upon school entry, the group recommended the creation of a National School Entry Form, which would ask parents or guardians about children's health, language skills, and day-care experiences, as well as a standardized health-screening form, which would provide information about vision, hearing, immunizations, and disabilities.

In addition, the group also proposed assessing children directly during their kindergarten year. The assessment would obtain information from children—through interviews and a portfolio of their classroom work—from parents, and from teachers.

The entry forms and kindergarten assessments should be administered to a sample of children from each state, Mr. Boyer noted. But, he suggested, the panel should provide the option for school districts and individual schools to expand the sample to obtain data for individual students.

However, he cautioned, such data should only be used for guidance and education planning, not for tracking children or screening them out of school programs.

"Data gathered to line children up, to decide winners and losers, would be mischievously wrong," Mr. Boyer said. "It would be unethical."

To measure progress toward the goal of increasing the high-school-completion rate, the resource group recommended obtaining data in two stages in an effort to determine how many students acquire credentials later in life.

Under their plan, the panel would collect information on the status of 19- and 20-year-olds and 24- and 25-year-olds, and would break the data down according to race and ethnicity.

In addition, the group proposed collecting data on the "event" dropout rate—the number of students who leave school each year—as well as data from a single cohort of students over time.

But the group rejected the data used in the Education Department's "Wall Chart," which compares a state's high-school-graduation rate with the number of 9th graders enrolled four years earlier.

"Many students stay in school" for more than four years, said Rafael Continued on Following Page Continued from Preceding Page

Valdivieso, director of the Hispanic Policy Development Project and the resource group's convener. "The dropout rate is not a complement of the completion rate."

Mr. Valdivieso added that, as part of its long-term recommendations, the group urged the creation of a national student-data reporting system. Such a system—which would assign each student an identification number—would enable educators to track students over time and across district and state boundaries.

It could also, he noted, serve as an "early-warning system" that could alert school officials to factors that might lead a student to drop out.

"It has to be available in such a way school personnel can use it and act on it," he said.

Unlike the first two groups, the resource group on student achievement proposed two separate reporting systems, one for 1991 and beyond, and a new national assessment system that could be up and running by the middle of the decade.

For 1991, the group proposed, the report card should include data from NAEP, the only current national student-achievement data; the Advancement Placement program; high-school course enrollments; available international comparisons; and a new survey of the "clients" of the education system.

In the next few years, the group recommended, NAEP should be expanded to permit more state-level data on student achievement. Under current law, NAEP was authorized to conduct a trial state-level assessment in mathematics in 1990 and another in math and reading in 1992.

Over the long term, however, the group proposed an ambitious new assessment system that would set national standards for student performance in key subject areas, while allowing clusters of states to develop their own tests to measure performance against the standards.

At least while the new system is being developed, the panel should continue to use NAEP to monitor national and state progress, said Lauren B. Resnick, director of the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh and the group's convener.

But, she warned, NAEP should not be used to measure individual student performance.

"Tests [for individuals] turn into high-stakes" instruments, she said. "Teachers start teaching directly to those items. NAEP was not designed for that."

Although a proposed new board, which would oversee the standards-setting process, would create a national "anchor" examination tied to the curriculum standards, the proposal does not call for a national test, according to Governor Romer. In recent months, a number of organizations have recommended the creation of national tests for students.

"What is advocated is a consensus on standards, and decentralization in assessment," he said. "What is advocated is not a national test."

Two other resource groups also recommended the use of additional assessments.

The report of the group on math and science notes that at least three international assessments of student achievement in the subjects are scheduled to take place in the 1990's, and it recommends that additional assessments be developed for international comparisons of performance of college and university students and graduates.

It also proposes gathering data on curriculum and learning goals, attitudes and expectations about math and science, and resources and instructional conditions.

"Thirty percent of high schools offer physics," noted Alvin W. Trivelpiece, director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and the resource group's convener. "Until we get to 100 percent—even a bad course—we aren't going to make progress."

The group on adult literacy suggested that the National Adult Literacy Survey, a federally sponsored assessment, be strengthened and that targets for performance be set.

Group members also proposed that some sort of NAEP-like test be developed to measure the higher-order thinking skills of college students, according to Mark D. Musick, the group's convener.

Secretary Alexander noted that the group appeared to place too much emphasis on adult literacy, and not enough on measuring the skills of the workforce.

"We are accustomed to talking about those who can't read and adult education," he said, "but we do not refer at all to all of us 'going back to school."'

The group on safe and drug-free schools, meanwhile, proposed that the panel include in its report measures that gauge the extent of drug use and crime, and the perception that schools are violent.

Although many such measures exist, there are few available at the state level, according to the group's convener, John W. Porter, superintendent of schools in Detroit.

Copies of the panel's compendium of group reports, "Measuring Progress Toward the National Education Goals," are available free of charge from the National Education Goals Panel, 1850 M St., N.W., Suite 270, Washington, D.C. 20036.

Vol. 10, Issue 28, Page 1, 16-17

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