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Budget Crunch Forces Board To Mull NAEP Cuts

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A lack of funds may force federal officials to scale back plans to expand the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The National Assessment Governing Board, the 24-member panel that sets policy for NAEP, is expected to decide in November whether to postpone an arts exam scheduled for 1996. The board's executive committee recently recommended pushing the start date back one year.

The committee also proposed limiting to one grade level the pool of students included in 1996 mathematics and science exams that will yield state-by-state results, allowing comparisons betweenstates. NAGB had planned to generate state-level results for students in three grades.

The federal assessment program, popularly known as "the nation's report card," tests as many as 20,000 students in various subjects each year.

The U.S. Education Department requested $39.2 million in fiscal 1995 for the assessment program, but appropriations bills pending in both the House and Senate include about $32.7 million.

Reluctant Retrenchment

Under the executive committee's proposal, 1996 math and science exams would be conducted as planned on the national level, using student pools drawn from grades four, eight, and 12.

State-level results probably would be given for either grade four or eight instead of for all three grades, according to Mark Musick, the chairman of NAGB.

In past math assessments, states have received such results for two grade levels, Mr. Musick said.

"States are clamoring for more data, and we're just disappointed that we can't give it to them," he said, adding that the executive committee approved the scale-back plan "reluctantly."

Ramsay Selden, the director of the state-education-assessment center for the Council of Chief State School Officers, called the board's proposal "sensible" given the circumstances.

But, he said, the budget crunch is "really affecting our ability to track our progress," particularly progress toward achieving the eight national education goals outlined in the Goals 2000: Educate America Act passed earlier this year.

However, some observers said that postponing the arts assessment may prove beneficial. The assessment was last administered in the 1970's, and test developers could use more time to field-test some of the more "tricky" aspects of the exam, Roy Truby, NAGB's executive director, said.

In a recent memo circulated to many arts groups, Mr. Truby pointed to the "complex, performance-based nature" of arts assessment.

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