Assessment Panel Seeks Ways To Attract State Participation
To shore up and expand participation by states in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics is assembling a task force to learn how NAEP can best serve the states.
State participation in the assessment, known as the nation's report card, dropped between 1996's and this year's administrations of the exam, and federal officials are eager to have a good showing in 2000. NCES Commissioner Pascal D. Forgione Jr. briefed the National Assessment Governing Board on the creation of the task force at the board's quarterly meeting here May 7-9.
The governing board sets policy for NAEP, and the NCES administers it. The congressionally mandated exam is the only ongoing, nationally representative survey of what U.S. students know and can do in several core subjects.
The task force, whose members are yet to be picked, is expected to listen to the concerns states have about the logistical hurdles involved in taking NAEP and pitch how the assessment can help them compare their performance with other states'. But that can be a tough sell when states' calendars are already filled with state and local tests. "Because states are doing more testing, we have more to compete with," said Laurence Ogle, an NCES statistician.
William T. Randall, a governing board member and the former commissioner of education in Colorado, has agreed to head the task force, which could have its first meeting as early as next month.
Students nationwide are represented in the national NAEP outcome. But states can also volunteer to take part and receive state-level performance results. A total of 58 jurisdictions are eligible to take part, including the 50 states, the District of Columbia, five U.S. territories, and Department of Defense schools. An all-time high of 48 jurisdictions took part in the 1996 assessment; 45 jurisdictions participated this year.
The goal for state-level participation in NAEP in 2000 is 50 jurisdictions, Mr. Forgione told board members here, but states need to commit by next year. "It's going to be a challenge," Mr. Forgione said. Some states drop in and out of the national assessment, and one--South Dakota--has never taken part in the state-level NAEP, officials said.
Despite an uncertain fate on Capitol Hill for President Clinton's proposed voluntary new national tests, the governing board continues to move ahead with planning for the exams.
Congress turned oversight for creation of the 4th grade reading and 8th grade math tests over to the governing board late last year, but the lawmakers limited work using money from this fiscal year to development of test items. No field or pilot testing could be done with this year's funds. Until last year, the board had served exclusively as the policy-setting body for NAEP.
Regardless of any action the governing board takes, Congress still has the power to kill the proposed tests--or keep them alive with further funding. The testing plan has powerful opponents in Congress, including the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa.
At Mr. Goodling's behest, the House approved a bill earlier this year saying that Congress would have to authorize explicitly any test development beyond Sept. 30. An identical provision passed the Senate in April. A House-Senate conference committee has yet to convene, but President Clinton has said he would veto the legislation to which the language is attached.
The longer the governing board must wait before getting a go-ahead from Congress, the more complications it faces.
Between July and October, board members are expected to review a daunting 1,300 potential items for the reading test and another 1,300 proposed math questions. Board members say that even if the national tests do not come to pass, that work would not be wasted because many of the items could probably be used for NAEP.
Roy Truby, the governing board's executive director, told the executive committee that the test-development contractor, American Institutes for Research, needs to be informed by Sept. 1 if the board intends to extend its contract with the Washington-based company into a second year.
AGB Chairman Mark D. Musick told the executive committee: "It's to this board's great advantage if Congress acts" before the contractual deadline--whether it is to squelch or approve the national tests.
On the occasion of the governing board's 10th anniversary this coming fall, the board has hired a University of Michigan history professor to take a critical look at NAGB's work over that period.
Maris A. Vinovskis is being paid $10,000 to write the board's history. He completed a similar report earlier this decade on the Education Department's office of educational research and improvement.
Also to commemorate its anniversary, the board is planning to seek private funding for a conference on the education standards movement and the roles of naep and the governing board in that effort. The conference would be held at the time of the board's November meeting in Washington, and a report would be issued on the proceedings. Past members of the board would be invited to the conference as would members of the commission that recommended the board's creation.
Vol. 17, Issue 36, Page 8