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Group Agrees on Draft Framework for NAEP Test in U.S. History

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WASHINGTON--Arriving at common ground in one of the most fractious fields in education, a group of educators and public officials has developed a draft framework for the 1994 National Assessment of Educational Progress test in U.S. history.

The draft is expected to undergo some revisions before it is presented to the National Assessment Governing Board in May. The panel drafting the framework was scheduled to meet late this week to go over comments from some 600 reviewers.

But Thomas G. Ward, the coordinator of the project, said the panel has reached a tentative consensus on several key issues that have divided educators in the often-contentious field.

The group strove, for example, to achieve "the perfect blend'' between an emphasis on the contributions of individual ethnic and cultural groups and a focus on the "commonalities'' all Americans share, he said.

At the same time, Mr. Ward pointed out, the draft framework stresses themes that cut across time periods in history, as well the chronology of events. It also includes topics on social, cultural, and religious activities and geography, in addition to conventional political history, he noted.

"There are many different ways of viewing history instruction,'' Mr. Ward said. "It's good to see we can find common ground in the controversy.''

'The Best Practice There Is'

The upcoming assessment is the third test of students' knowledge of U.S. history to be conducted by NAEP, a Congressionally mandated project that measures student abilities in a variety of school subjects.

In 1986, under a project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, NAEP administered a U.S. history test to a sample of high-school juniors. The results were published that year in What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?, a book by Chester E. Finn Jr., then the Education Department's assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, and Diane S. Ravitch, who currently holds that position.

In 1988, NAEP conducted a full-scale assessment in the subject, testing students in the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades.

To develop the framework for the 1994 assessment, the NAEP governing board awarded a contract to the Council of Chief State School Officers.

As part of the project, the council named a 26-member steering committee, which sets guidelines for the development of the framework, and a 23-member planning committee, which drafted the document and identified goals and objectives for the assessment.

Both panels consist of precollegiate teachers, university professors of history and education, and representatives of education groups and the general public.

In addition to convening the committees, the council provided funds to the American Historical Association, the National Council for History Education, and the National Council for the Social Studies, which formed task forces to make recommendations to the committees. The state chiefs' council also arranged public hearings on the topic and gave the draft to some 600 people for their comments.

A guiding principle of the effort, said Mr. Ward, who was formerly a social-studies specialist for the Fairfax County, Va., public schools and a staff coordinator for the National Endowment for the Humanities-Readers' Digest teacher-scholars program, is that the framework should reflect "the best practice there is in schools.''

"We tended in most instances,'' he said, "to come down on what we consider best practice, as opposed to delving too much into the most widespread way it is handled.''

At the same time, he said, "we did not go too far beyond what is currently practiced in schools so schools couldn't follow in kind.''

'What Makes History Exciting'

In an attempt to organize the content of the assessment and provide guidance to the test makers, the draft outlines a three-dimensional structure for the U.S. history assessment.

The first, which provides a "basic chronological structure for the facts and events that make up the story,'' identifies eight periods in U.S. history, beginning with African, Native American, and European civilizations prior to 1492 and concluding with the Cold War period.

The second dimension identifies four themes that cut across all periods. These are: "ideas, institutions, practices, and controversies'' in American democracy; "the gathering and interaction of peoples, cultures, and ideas''; "economic and technological changes''; and "the changing role of America in the world.''

The third dimension outlines the "habits of mind'' students should demonstrate. These include the ability to show historical perspective, to use evidence, to interpret, and to draw inferences and syntheses.

The draft also suggests in an appendix the possible content that might be included. Mr. Ward said that list will most likely be "winnowed down'' before the final version is submitted to the board.

"We're not trying to put forward a comprehensive curriculum in U.S. history,'' he said. "We're trying to define a test that will say what all students across the country should know and be able to do.''

In addition to multiple-choice questions, the draft framework proposes that between 50 percent and 70 percent of the test items consist of open-ended questions, which might ask students to write short answers, extended responses, or to create charts, maps, graphs, and timelines.

It also proposes special studies to examine alternative forms of assessment, such as individually administered exercises, portfolios, projects, and group assessments.

Mr. Ward also noted that the committees drafting the framework agreed that the assessment should include opportunities for students to use primary sources, and that such sources could include works of literature, speeches, paintings, journals, diaries, artifacts, costumes, and cooking equipment.

"There was a real consensus from the committees that that's really what's needed,'' he said. "That's what gives history its excitement.''

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