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Published in Print: February 3, 1999, as Achieve Planning New Math Test for 8th Grade

Achieve Planning New Math Test for 8th Grade

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A group led by governors and corporate executives is ready to create a new 8th grade mathematics test and is waiting for the go-ahead from states.

Achieve Inc., which was founded in the aftermath of the 1996 education summit in Palisades, N.Y., unveiled a plan here last week to devise a test to evaluate students on math principles emphasized in countries whose students perform the best in international studies. The test would be an adjunct to current state tests.

Officials of the Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit group said leaders from 19 states have expressed interest in the proposed 45-minute exam, but added that those states need final approval from their governors and legislatures before signing on.

Robert B. Schwartz

"We got a strong affirmation that this is a direction in which people want to move," Robert B. Schwartz, Achieve's president, said after a two-day meeting in which chief state school officers and assessment directors discussed the proposal.

Gauging Interest

Governors on Achieve's board will be lobbying their colleagues to buy in to the idea when the National Governors' Association meets here next month, Mr. Schwartz added. After gauging interest there, Achieve's board will decide at its meeting next month whether to pursue the proposal.

Initial reaction from other state officials, however, has led Mr. Schwartz to believe that Achieve will proceed so that, by the spring of 2001, it can offer an exam that would supplement state-level assessments.

Looking Abroad

The exam would be designed so that states can collect data on how each 8th grade classroom is performing on two-dimensional geometry, proportions, exponents, and other skills and content that prepare students for algebra and other high school courses.

Achieve officials said the test would fill a niche not addressed by state-level exams or the sampling done by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

William H. Schmidt

Most state examinations, according to an analysis conducted for Achieve, address simple skills such as computation and fractions.

They ignore the higher-level content tested by countries that performed the best on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, according to William H. Schmidt, a professor of education at Michigan State University in East Lansing, who evaluated the state assessments for Achieve.

"The focus of [states' current tests] is at least in part on what the top-achieving countries don't consider essential for that grade level," Mr. Schmidt said.

The test Achieve is proposing would gauge what those other countries consider necessary, Mr. Schwartz said.

U.S. 8th graders scored below average on the 1995 TIMSS survey of student achievement in 41 countries.

The Achieve test would give more specific information than NAEP, the federal testing program that periodically samples student achievement in various core subjects.

Because NAEP is a sampling, it reports statewide scores but offers no clue about how well individual schools--or even whole districts--are performing compared with one another.

In the testing period proposed by Achieve, states could learn how schools and even students in individual classrooms are learning the mathematical material stressed by other countries, Mr. Schwartz said.

And, unlike President Clinton's proposed national test for 8th grade math, Achieve's appears to be politically viable, he argued.

Mr. Clinton's proposal, which also would assess 4th graders' reading ability, has been slowed by congressional opposition that is unlikely to disappear in his remaining time in office.

'Embedding' Dashed

The approach of creating a supplementary exam is a new one for Achieve, whose leaders include Fortune 500 chief executives.

Achieve's leaders first proposed garnering comparable achievement data across states without designing a whole new test. ("Strong Words Underscore National Testing Questions," Feb. 18, 1998.)

They hoped to insert-- or "embed"--a battery of questions into existing tests so that they wouldn't add much time to what states now set aside for examinations.

But that approach wouldn't have calculated class-level data, and it would have forced states to reprint and redesign existing test forms, said Matthew Gandal, the group's director of standards and assessment.

"You need to have a significant number of questions," he said. "We couldn't sprinkle in four or five questions" to get the results Achieve wanted.

Vol. 18, Issue 21, Page 16

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