When reporters gathered Feb. 11 to hear Vice President Al Gore announce the results of the latest national assessment in reading, they probably didn't know that the figures were already in the public domain.
But an hour before Mr. Gore's speech to education advocates and members of the press in the Department of Education's auditorium, Pascal D. Forgione Jr., the federal commissioner of education statistics, released the scores on the Internet.
The board that oversees the National Assessment of Education Progress vests Mr. Forgione with the authority to release the tests results, and the commissioner had planned to do so with a speech in a news conference that day.
But Mr. Gore wanted to attend the event, and his calendar dictated that he be its first speaker, according to Julie Green, the press secretary for Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley. The release "was done electronically, given the scheduling constraints we were under," Ms. Green said. The department has used the format before, such as the time President Clinton discussed results from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study before Mr. Forgione addressed them publicly, she added.
But Mr. Gore's speech before the official presentation of results strayed from tradition and the policies set for NAEP releases. "It's always been facts first, and then comment," said Lawrence Feinberg, a spokesman for the National Assessment Governing Board, known as NAGB.
And the format of the Feb. 11 event led to some mixed messages. Vice President Gore hailed the 1998 reading scores as "great progress." After he left the room and was followed by much of the audience, Mr. Forgione tempered those remarks, saying the results showed "some improvement." ("U.S. Students Bounce Back in Reading," Feb. 17, 1999.)
The governing board calls for an apolitical release of the reports. By keeping the tests out of the hands of politicians, it will "uphold the credibility of NAEP data," the board's policy says.
Usually, Mr. Forgione speaks first at press conferences held to release NAEP results, and he is followed by the secretary of education or other administration officials.
--David J. Hoff firstname.lastname@example.org
Vol. 18, Issue 24, Page 20