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Published in Print: June 12, 1991, as Goals Panel Begins To Select Measures For Its First Report

Goals Panel Begins To Select Measures For Its First Report

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Washington--A panel of governors and Bush Administration officials last week approved a set of measures to gauge progress toward the national goal of improved student achievement, but failed to agree on a way to measure whether students are ready for school.

The National Education Goals Panel also took the first steps toward developing a new national assessment system to monitor student achievement.

The panel announced that it has created a council of educators and public officials to determine if the panel should proceed in establishing national education standards and a nationwide examination system.

Based on an agreement with the Congress, the council is expected to consider the "feasibility and desirability" of national testing, as well as issues of cost and fairness.

The actions came in a meeting here to decide what should make up the first "report card" on progress toward the national education goals set by President Bush and the National Governors' Association last year. The first report is scheduled to be released in September.

To monitor progress toward the goal of ensuring that all students "graduate having demonstrated competency in challenging subject matter,'' the panel agreed to use scores from the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress in five core subjects, as well as participation and performance on the Advanced Placement examinations.

The panel also agreed to use the results of three international assessments to track the goal of guaranteeing that U.S. students are first in the world in mathematics and science.

But, lacking a method of measuring readiness for school, the panel divided sharply, along party lines, over whether the group should instead include in the report some measures--such as prenatal health, preschool participation, and parental activities--that are associated with a child's ability and readiness to begin formal schooling.

Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. of South Carolina, a Republican, argued that the panel would "make a serious mistake" if it used such measures as gauges of readiness. He said that the report should only include "output" measures, and that the other indicators should be included in the report's appendix only.

But Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, the panel's chairman and a Democrat, said the report should include the statistics, even if they are not direct measures of the goal.

In addition to data on achievement, he said, the report should provide information to help the nation attain the goals.

"We are in trouble saying, 'This is where you ought to be and this is where you are,' and we don't have the rest of the answer--what to do about it," Governor Romer said. "If you don't have that, you have a dispirited nation."

The panel agreed to reconsider the issue next month, as well as to consider measures on the three other goals--raising the graduation rate to 90 percent by the year 2000, achieving 100 percent literacy, and ensuring that schools are drug-free and violence-free.

'Holding Up a Mirror'

To gauge progress toward the six national education goals adopted last year, the governors created the 10-member panel, which is charged with issuing annual reports on the anniversary of the 1989 Charlottesville, Va., "education summit" that led to the establishment of the goals.

Appearing at last week's meeting, President Bush said the reports would "hold us accountable."

"This panel's work will hold a mirror up to the nation and force us to take an honest look at ourselves and at our schools," he said. "When we look in that mirror, we'll see that our actions can, and will, make a difference."

In preparing the first report, the panel convened six "resource groups" of experts to advise it on available measures, as well as to suggest new measures that could be created during the decade that would more accurately gauge progress.

The panel also held eight regional hearings on groups' suggestions and solicited additional testimony from interested parties. Over the past two months, the panel received some 3,500 comments on their proposals.

Panel members acknowledged last week that their initial report card will include some "incompletes," because measures of progress on many of the goals do not exist, particularly at the state level. But Governor Romer said the panel will indicate where gaps in information exist.

"If we don't have an answer," he said, "we'll say we don't have an answer."

A.P. Test Data Included

In discussing indicators of progress on student achievement, the panel agreed to include in the report scores from the most recent NAEP tests in the five core subjects named in the goal--English, math, science, history, and geography.

Results from the 1990 math test, released by NAEP last week, include the only state-level measures of performance, and the panel endorsed a policy position previously adopted by the NGA to expand NAEP to permit additional state-level tests in more subjects. (See related story, page 1.)

The panel also agreed to report the math results using the standards adopted by the National Assessment Governing Board. These results, unlike most NAEP data, indicate the number of students who perform at the "basic," "proficient," and "advanced" levels of achievement.

Acknowledging that many experts have questioned the validity of the standards, the goals panel agreed that they would not use them as a baseline for progress if the NAGB revises them in 1992.

In addition to NAEP data, the panel also decided to include data on the number of students who take the College Board's AP tests in the five subjects, as well as on their performance.

Including information on that rigorous program, which many colleges accept for credit, would encourage more schools to offer it, Governor Campbell predicted.

"If it is included, it would give more emphasis on the test, and probably drive the creation of more advanced courses in high school," he said.

'Prescribe a Curriculum'?

But, despite public comments calling for the inclusion of measures on the arts, the panel rejected the idea of including additional subjects in the report, and instead decided to include data on AP results in the arts and foreign languages in the appendix.

"If you expand the list of subjects, you prescribe a curriculum for schools," Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander warned.

The panel also rejected using results from the Scholastic Aptitude Test and the American College Testing Program test, two measures featured prominently on the Education Department's annual state-by-state compendium of student achievement known as the "wall chart."

On math and science achievement, the panel agreed to include data from three international assessments conducted in the 1980's: the second international math study and the second international science study, both conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, and the International Assessment of Educational Progress, conducted by the Educational Testing Service, which measured 13-year-olds' performance in six nations in math and science.

But the panel decided to put in the appendix, not in the report, data on teacher preparation and higher-education enrollments in the subjects.

Alvin W. Trivelpiece, convener of the goals panel's math- and science-achievement resource group, said the inclusion of such information would spur colleges and universities to take an interest in attaining the goal.

"How are we going to be first by 2000?" asked Mr. Trivelpiece, director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. "You'd better have crackerjack teachers. If you aren't creating them, all the achievement tests in the world aren't going to get you there."

Heated Debate

In turning to the readiness goal, members acknowledged that there are no existing methods of measuring whether children are prepared to enter school.

In place of such measures, the resource group recommended using seven indicators that panel members said would provide indirect evidence of children's readiness for school.

The seven are data on prenatal health, including the incidence of low-birth-weight babies; parental age and education; preschool-program participation; home activities with preschoolers; children's access to health care; the quality of preschool programs; and the nutritional status of children.

But in a heated debate, Gov. Terry E. Branstad of Iowa argued that such data represent strategies to achieve the goals, not measures of progress. Such strategies, he said, should be up to individual states.

"I object to a resource group telling me what the public policy of my state ought to be," he said.

Ernest L. Boyer, convener of the resource group, responded that the proposed indicators reflect the objectives that the governors included along with the education goals.

"I assume the governors saw some correlation between the objectives and the goals you approved," said Mr. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. "We tried to work within the roadmap you provided. We did not go charging off in a new direction."

Mr. Boyer added that the resource group would work over the next year to develop a model national readiness assessment. He said such an assessment would not be a single instrument that would be administered to all 5-year-olds; rather, it would be administered by teachers over a period of weeks, and would include observations, a portfolio of pupil work, and other factors.

"With a little time, research, the right brainpower, and a little prayer," he said, "we can develop procedures for direct evidence" of readiness.

Council on Standards

In a related development, the goals panel also announced the formation of an "interim council on standards and testing" to report on the "feasibility and desirability" of a national testing system. (See box, this page.)

Governor Campbell said the creation of the council is a "natural" step for the goals panel.

"When we are finished," he said, "we'd like to have a situation where every child has an opportunity to take an achievement test and know where they are, and parents can know where they are."

The council had originally been charged with recommending steps the goals panel could take to establish national standards and a national testing system. But in an agreement with members of the Congress, the Bush Administration revised its mandate to study whether such testing should take place. The two sides also agreed to expand the council to include four additional Congressional representatives. (See story, following page.)

Mr. Romer said the goals panel and the Congress differed only on the pace of setting standards and on who would set them.

"The question in Congress is not that we don't need to do it, but on the pace and inclusiveness," he said. "They share this general point of view: Yes, we need to set standards and authentic assessments, but be sure to do it fairly, and include a broad base" of constituents.

Vol. 10, Issue 38, Page 1

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