Published Online: March 29, 2000
Published in Print: March 29, 2000, as Conservative Group Seeks To End State NAEP Program

Conservative Group Seeks To End State NAEP Program

While political leaders from both parties are aiming to raise the stakes for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, some conservatives are mounting a campaign to scale it back.

The Home School Legal Defense Association says it is building a coalition to try to end the practice of collecting state samples of student achievement in the federally sponsored testing program.

The critics assert that the program's 10-year-old practice of providing state-by-state scores has encouraged states to revise their testing programs to match NAEP.

"What gets tested must be taught. We're one step shy of a national curriculum, and we're moving fast in that direction," contended Christopher J. Klicka, the senior counsel for the home school group, which is based in Purcellville, Va. "That's the fear we have about the gradual expansion NAEP has had."

Foes of the assessment's state-by-state component say they will be lobbying Congress this year to get rid of the state tests and shrink the assessment to its original purpose: collecting achievement data from tests given in key subjects to national samples of students, and reporting scores for four regions of the country. Congress is scheduled to renew funding authority for the testing program and other federal education research this year.

NAEP's Leverage Doubted

NAEP supporters, meanwhile, will be working vigorously to retain the testing program's state-data collection, which began in 1989 under the control of the National Assessment Governing Board. About 40 states participate in the voluntary program, which is offered every other year. About that number took part in the mathematics and science exams this year, despite a campaign by the National Center for Education Statistics to recruit all states to participate.

"It seems to me that the current program's leverage on curriculum is pretty weak," said Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and the governing board's first chairman. Mr. Finn served as an assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration.

"It's one of the few assessments that provide for any sort of reasonable apples-to-apples comparisons among states," added Michael E. Ward, the North Carolina superintendent of public instruction. While many states hire the same commercial test publishers to run their testing programs, the format of those tests is so different that it is not possible to make accurate comparisons between states, Mr. Ward noted.

The conservative opposition is emerging at a time when President Clinton and the presumptive presidential nominees from both major parties are proposing rewards for states that show improvement on NAEP scores. ("NAEP Weighed as Measure of Accountability," March 8, 2000.)

In addition, a Senate bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would create a pool of up to $2.5 billion a year to reward states for improved test scores.

Under such a plan, states would be eligible for bonuses for statistically significant increases on the 4th and 8th grade national assessments in reading and mathematics. They also could qualify by citing scores on tests of their own choosing.

'Bleeding Over'

While the so-called state NAEP has vocal and influential supporters, one key congressional aide said that its opponents may be in position to rally their cause on Capitol Hill.

The governing board last month published a notice proposing to use NAEP test questions as part of a trial to see if its format for a proposed new national testing program would yield valid scores. The board has the authority to oversee research on the voluntary tests— which, unlike NAEP, would yield scores for individual students—but Congress has prohibited field testing for the controversial plan.

Board officials say the trial, which was abandoned due to time constraints, would have been legal because its questions came from NAEP, not those written for the proposed new tests.

"What they have done is send out signals—whether intentionally or not— that they are willing to push the letter of the law," said Vic Klatt, the top education aide to Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. "This national-test stuff is now bleeding over into NAEP."

Mr. Klicka said that he expects support from such conservative groups as the Eagle Forum and the Family Research Council, as well as from test publishers.

Test- makers aren't pushing to scrap the state NAEP program; they are, however, raising technical questions about the ability to make fair comparisons of the quality of states' schools based on NAEP scores, said Michael H. Kean, the vice president of public and governmental affairs for CTB-McGraw Hill, a Monterey, Calif.-based test-maker.

Vol. 19, Issue 29, Page 29

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