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Published in Print: August 5, 1998, as Contractor Gets More Time To Write National Test Items

Contractor Gets More Time To Write National Test Items

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The independent panel designing President Clinton's proposed voluntary national tests is juggling its development schedule even as Republicans in Congress are moving to stop its work.

The National Assessment Governing Board announced last month that it will give its contractors extra time to write questions for pilot tests.

The changes eat into the board's time to review more than 2,000 potential items for the proposed 4th grade reading and 8th grade mathematics assessments. But board members won't delay the schedule that calls for pilot testing in March and for the exams to be ready by the spring of 2001.

If GOP leaders have their way, the work will never get to that point. The fiscal 1999 spending bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee last month included no money for ongoing work on the tests and prohibits the Department of Education or the governing board from spending money from other accounts on the project.

Republican Roadblock

Stopping the proposed tests is a top priority for congressional Republicans. The House early this year passed a bill demanding that the governing board--known as NAGB--stop test development by Sept. 30.

The Senate included the same language as an amendment to a bill creating tax incentives for K-12 education savings. When the test language was dropped from that bill in a conference committee, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., promised they would put a stop to NAGB's work on the new tests in the fiscal 1999 appropriations bill.

President Clinton eventually vetoed the tax bill. He has announced his opposition to the House appropriations bill based on its numbers alone. Last year, he threatened several times to veto a fiscal 1998 spending bill that would have halted his testing plan, but the administration negotiated a compromise that allowed test development to continue for fiscal 1998, which ends Sept. 30.

Despite the outside debate, NAGB is working as if it will have the money and authority to proceed with its work on the tests.

The bipartisan panel of politicians, educators, and community leaders--whose primary task is overseeing the separate National Assessment of Educational Progress--altered its schedule last month after experts evaluating its work suggested changes.

In a July 15 letter to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, the National Research Council said NAGB's schedule did not leave enough time for the American Institutes for Research, the lead contractor for the project, to prepare the 2,600 questions needed for the pilot tests.

The nrc's experts in June reviewed 105 questions and determined that about half needed significant revisions before they could be approved for pilot-testing. While that proportion isn't extraordinary for a test in the early stages of development, the experts for the private council created by congressional charter thought NAGB's time line was insufficient for the contractor.

Deliberation Curtailed

In response, NAGB will free up time for the contractor by cutting back on the time the board spends deliberating on the items.

Mark D. Musick, the board's chairman, said NAGB will hire experts to review potential test questions and decide how well they measure students' ability to perform on the proficiency levels of the existing national assessment, the sampling of student performance that would be the basis of the new tests.

Vol. 17, Issue 43, Page 32

Web Resources
  • Read the NRC's letter report to Secretary Richard W. Riley reporting on proposed national tests.
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