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NAEP Board Adopts Plan for First Geography Test

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WASHINGTON--A federal panel of educators and policymakers last week unanimously approved a "rigorous'' framework for the first national student-achievement testing program in geography.

The framework, approved during the National Assessment Governing Board's May 8 and 9 meeting here, will guide the development of the 1994 National Assessment for Educational Progress tests in geography for students in grades 4, 8, and 12.

NAEP, which was mandated by the Congress to measure student achievement in a variety of subjects, administered a smaller-scale geography test to high-school seniors in 1988, but has never tested students on their geography skills in all three grades.

In approving the new framework, the board acknowledged, however, that the new tests call for a level of geography instruction that most students are not now getting.

"Our students may not do very well on this assessment right away because they're not being taught the geography they need,'' said Phyllis Aldrich, the chairman of the board committee that recommended the framework for adoption. "This will be the baseline. We hope it will help the schools to set their sights high.''

Panels of educators, geographers, citizens, policymakers, and representatives of education groups organized by the Council of Chief State School Officers developed the framework over the past 10 months under a $445,000 contract to the board. (Education Week, May 13, 1992.)

Developers of the framework said the tests' high skills level is in part a response to the education goals adopted by the President and the nation's governors. One of the six goals calls for students to demonstrate "competence in challenging subject matter'' in geography and four other curricular areas by the year 2000.

The new framework, which is expected to be widely disseminated well in advance of the 1994 tests, calls for testing students both on basic geographical knowledge and on analytic and problem-solving skills. About half of testing time will be spent on multiple-choice questions.

History Framework Deferred

The governing board, meanwhile, deferred action on a proposed framework for the 1994 U.S.-history assessment until the framework's drafters supply additional information.

The board members applauded the Council of Chief State School Officers, which developed the framework under a contract to the board, for making considerable progress in negotiating one of the most fractious fields in education. A panel named by the council had prepared a draft U.S.-history framework in March. (See Education Week, March 18, 1992.)

But the board members said they would not vote on the framework until after they had reviewed the specifications for test items, as well as a preface that would outline why students should study history and the significance of the themes and time periods included on the assessment.

The additional documents are expected to be sent to the board in the next few weeks.

"The amount of information you have laid out is overwhelming,'' Mary Blanton, a board member who is a lawyer from Salisbury, N.C., told Thomas G. Ward, the director of the project. "I realize you're trying to get everyone under the tent, but somehow this has got to be more focused. What are the most important things?''

Board members also argued that the proposed preface should stress the need for a balance between between "the pluribus and the unum,'' and between the nation's positive accomplishments and its problems in achieving desired goals.

William Hume, the president of Basic American Foods and a member of the N.A.G.B., said the draft framework places too much of an emphasis on the shortcomings in American history.

"I get a lot of joy out of being an American,'' Mr. Hume said. "I don't see a lot of that in this document.''

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