Experts Outline Assessment Systems To Track Goals

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WASHINGTON A group of experts last week proposed an ambitious set of new assessment systems--including an early-childhood assessment and a test of college students--that could be used to measure progress on the six national education goals.

Appearing before the National Education Goals Panel, a group of governors and Bush Administration officials, the exports said the new measures would fill in the gaps that remain on the panel's first report card, which is expected to be released this month.

That report "will probably indicate more of what we don't know than what we do know," acknowledged Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. of South Carolina, the chairman of the goals panel.

In addition to the assessment of children's readiness for school and the collegiate assessment, the proposals include a national student-record system to enable states to more accurately compare high school completion rates; a national student-assessment system that would measure achievement in five core subjects; a set of indicators on teacher quality and instructional practices in mathematics and science; and international comparisons of workforce skills.

Governor Campbell said the panel's staff would analyze the working groups' reports to determine the cost and feasibility of their proposals. The panel is expected this fall to consider whether to go ahead and plan for developing the new measures.

"Can we do all things? The answer is no," Governor Campbell said. "The question is, 'What is necessary?" Measuring Progress

The 10-member goals panel was formed last year to monitor progress on the six national education goals set by President Bush and the governors.

The goals state that, by the year 2000: 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 mathematics and science; every adult will be literate; and every school will be free of drugs and violence.

To assist the panel in coming up with ways of measuring progress, the panel formed six resource groups of experts, one for each goal, to come up with suggestions for indicators. Following a series of regional forums, the goals panel adopted a set of measures to include in its initial report.

However, because of the limitations of current data collection, this year's report contains numerous gaps, panel members acknowledged. For example, the report will not include a direct measure of school readiness.

In addition, the report is expected to include mostly information that has been published before, a fact that may blunt its impact, several observers have cautioned. (See Education Week, July 31, 1991 .)

To help the governors and Administration officials develop new measures that might more accurately gauge progress toward the goals, as well as help schools achieve them, the goals panel had asked the resource groups to convene working groups to outline new assessment systems.

Early-Childhood Assessment

In the area of school readiness, the thorniest in the goals panel's deliberations, the working group recommended a four-part in-school assessment for children during the kindergarten year.

Despite the "widespread skepticism that surrounds the issue of testing young children," said the working group's chairman, Sharon Lynn Kagan, the panel concluded that such an assessment is "doable and necessary."

"We agreed that we needed to do it, and we needed to do it well ," said Ms. Kagan, associate director of Yale University's Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy.

Under the working group's plan, the assessment would include parent observations, teacher observations, an individually administered profile of children's skills and knowledge, and a portfolio of children's school performance over time.

The assessment is expected to measure five aspects of learning and development, according to the group's report. These include physical well-being and motor development, social and emotional development, approaches to learning, language usage, and cognition and general knowledge.

"Attending to all five of these dimensions is basic to any early-childhood program or kindergarten," the report states, "[and] no one dimension should be stressed more than another."

The group also urged that the assessment be administered to only a sample of students, not to every child, and that it not be used to "label, stigmatize, or classify any individual child or group of children."

Ms. Kagan said that the assessment could be up and running by 1996, and that it should be administered every three years. "The nation, through you, is at a crossroads on the readiness issue," Ms. Kagan told the goals panel. "You have the power to create a durable system that can move children, schooling, and the country ahead."

Technical Hurdles

Addressing another hotly contested issue, the working group on student achievement outlined a national assessment system that would measure students' abilities in five core subjects.

Although the goals panel, along with the Congress, has created a council to analyze the issue of national testing, the working group's report was aimed at identifying for the panel the technical issues surrounding the development of such a system.

Robert L. Linn, co-director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said the proposed system faces two major hurdles: It must be able to show evidence of its own validity--that is, that it measures what it says it measures--and it must allow for different examinations to be judged against a single standard.

Mr. Linn argued that beth obstacles can be overcome, but noted that conquering them would take time. Rather than postpone developing the system, he proposed, the panel could phase it in so that students do not face consequences from their performance on the assessments right away.

'Stealth Issue'

The proposed collegiate assessment could be the "stealth issue" in the panel's deliberations, suggested Mark D. Musick, president of the Southern Regional Education Board.

Under the plan offered by the working group on that subject, the assessment would measure students' critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as subject-matter knowledge. It should not be used to compare students or institutions, the report states.

Marc S. Tucker, chairman of the working group and president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, recommended that such an assessment be created by a consensus among higher-education institutions and the public.

"The issue is not technical," Mr. Tucker said, "it is whether we can achieve a broad consensus" on what college students should know and be able to do.

The group on science and math achievement proposed that, in addition to international comparisons of achievement, the goals panel collect data on teacher quality and instructional practices.

Such measures would include professional-development opportunities, teachers' self-reports on their own expertise, and teacher responses to pedagogical problems.

"It's all very well to test outcomes," said Senta A. Raizen, director of the National Center for Improving Science Education. "But if you don't know what leads to the outcomes, and how to change practices to get better outcomes, you can collect outcomes information forever and not change very much."

In the area of high-school completion, the group outlined a national student-records system that would enable more accurate comparisons across states and help schools track students who transfer to other schools or states.

Rafael Valdivieso, vice president of the Hispanic Policy Development Project, said the proposed system would build on an effort by the Education Department and the Council of Chief State School Officers to establish common definitions of graduation and dropout rates.

Vol. 11, Issue 02, Pages 18, 20

Published in Print: September 11, 1991, as Experts Outline Assessment Systems To Track Goals
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