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NAEP Redesign Seeks To Curb Costs, Improve Usefulness

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The National Assessment Governing Board last month backed changes that seek to improve NAEP's cost-effectiveness and usefulness and preserved most of the policy decisions it had approved last spring for the assessment's redesign.

The board hopes to make NAEP more streamlined without sacrificing reliability, validity, and quality of data. The assessment will continue to use performance standards--basic, proficient, and advanced--and a mix of multiple-choice and open-response test items in assessing the academic achievement of U.S. students. (Please see Board Endorses Draft Plan for NAEP Overhaul," May 22, 1996.)

NAEP, which has been given since 1969, is the only ongoing, nationally representative assessment of what a sample of students in grades 4, 8, and 12 know and can do in a variety of academic subjects. It is mandated by Congress and run by the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. The governing board sets policy for NAEP.

The assessment's redesign, which was unanimously approved here at a quarterly meeting of the governing board, has been about 20 months in the making. The plan calls for the assessment to be conducted every year in two or three subjects so that all required subjects are tested at least twice a decade. Currently, NAEP is administered every other year.

By law, NAEP is to test 10 subjects: reading, writing, math, science, history, geography, civics, the arts, foreign languages, and economics. Giving the exams more than once is essential to determine whether students' performance changes over time. However, during the 1990s, only reading and math will have been assessed more than once using up-to-date tests and performance standards.

The most frequent tests will be in reading, writing, math, and science, the plan says, and will be given according to a publicly released schedule covering eight to 10 years. And the board said those four subjects in grades 4 and 8 will be given priority for the NAEP exams that generate state-level results, which also will be conducted on a set schedule for the first time.

Over the years, the governing board has had to balance the cost of conducting assessments with the desire to do as many as possible as often as possible. No immediate increase is expected in NAEP's $32 million budget.

The governing board also has been disappointed in the length of time needed by the Education Department to produce reports of test results after an exam is given--anywhere from 10 to 27 months. With the redesign, the board hopes to cut that time to just six to nine months. Producing fewer comprehensive reports of results is expected to help.

Boosting Its Appeal

Throughout the redesign plan, the governing board has attempted to address concerns about NAEP. The board considered, but did not adopt, a recommendation from the Council of Chief State School Officers that some related subjects, such as reading and writing, be combined into a single assessment. The board said it would consult with technical experts and policymakers to determine the cost and feasibility of such an idea.

And worries about the burdens that NAEP places on the states prompted some changes in the draft document approved in May. Currently, to create a report of national NAEP results and one of state results requires that two separate samples of schools be drawn from among those in each state. The board suggested that reducing the state sample size could lessen the cost to states.

Addressing another concern of educators, the final redesign plan says the national assessment "shall provide practical incentives for school and district participation" in the assessments, although it did not say what those should be.

A smaller percentage of schools and students that are invited to participate do so for the 12th-grade assessments compared with those for 4th and 8th graders. Seniors who have taken the test have said they don't try very hard and don't think it's very important.

Schools and students that participate in NAEP do not get test scores back or other information useful to their instructional programs. The governing board said that should be changed but did not say how.

In an interview after the board meeting, William T. Randall, the chairman of the governing board and Colorado's commissioner of education, said the board must be responsive to educators' concerns in order to have a successful congressional reauthorization of NAEP next year. "We cannot go into the next reauthorization without field support," he said.

The redesign process is facing a tight time line. The request for proposals for the contracts to conduct the new national assessment is to be issued in December 1997. Governing board members will begin meeting in committee this month to discuss steps in the redesign. At a meeting of the full board here in November, the board is expected to adopt a schedule for administering the new version of NAEP.

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