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Published in Print: July 11, 2001, as NAGB Delays Civics Test as Possible Other Testing Strains Budget

NAGB Delays Civics Test as Possible Other Testing Strains Budget

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The governing board that oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress, concerned about preparations for the wave of new testing contained in education legislation before Congress, has voted overwhelmingly to delay giving a national civics test.

In a special meeting held here June 28, the National Assessment Governing Board approved a set of policy changes needed to prepare to give NAEP math and reading tests to a sample of 4th and 8th grade students in every state annually, as Congress is currently considering.

President Bush has proposed annual NAEP testing, beginning in 2003, as a way to confirm state progress on their own tests. Under the legislation, states would have to test students in math and reading each year in grades 3-8.

NAEP, a federally mandated testing program, now measures national and state progress in reading and math on a four- year cycle, with states volunteering to participate. It also measures students' knowledge and skills in other subjects on a periodic basis.

Last month's NAGB meeting in Houston was scheduled so that the governing board, which oversees NAEP policy, could approve plans for a field test of new assessment items and procedures to take place next February. Among other features, the field test would standardize the testing time across subjects; permit students to identify themselves as members of more than one racial or ethnic group, as required by federal law; and add new test items in reading and math. (See "Study Questions Reliability Of Single-Year Test-Score Gains," May 23, 2001.)

But, despite the board's unanimous approval of most of the policy changes, officials with the National Center for Education Statistics, which oversees the day-to- day operation of NAEP, warned that it still could be difficult to ready the testing program in time, unless Congress acts quickly to approve the legislation that would authorize and fund such annual NAEP testing.

Congress is considering legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that would mandate annual state NAEP tests in math and reading in the 4th and 8th grades, and annual state tests in math and reading in grades 3- 8. But a number of issues to be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee could prevent the bill's passage before September. ("ESEA Passage Unlikely Before Fall," July 11, 2001.)

That would put NAEP on an extremely tight schedule to develop all of the new test items and procedures needed for annual math and reading tests for both 4th and 8th graders, beginning in 2003.

'Unfunded Mandate'

Some board members also opposed the decision to delay a NAEP assessment in civics by two years—from 2003 to 2005—in order to help deal with the costs and logistics of the Bush plan. ("Civics Test May Be Delayed To Abet Bush Plan," June 20, 2001.) President Bush has proposed increasing NAEP's current $40 million budget by $69 million in fiscal 2002 to finance the planned expansion in reading and math. But the Department of Education has not yet allocated about $5 million that the governing board estimates is needed in the current fiscal year to help prepare for the field test. As a result, the board voted 16-2 to delay the civics assessment, in part, to find the needed funds.

Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove of Mississippi and Diane Ravitch, an education historian at New York University, both voted against the delay, arguing that if Congress wants to expand NAEP, then it should pay for the full cost of the expansion and not ask the program to dip further into its already constrained budget.

"If Congress wants NAGB to take on new responsibilities as part of this legislation, it should pay for NAGB to do that," Ms. Ravitch said. "I just felt it's like an unfunded mandate. I'm sorry I couldn't persuade the board to hold on to the civics test."

The civics test was last given in 1998, after a 10-year hiatus.

Board members also struggled to write policy resolutions that could anticipate the details of the final version of the ESEA legislation. Under the proposals now before Congress, for example, state NAEP tests would be used to confirm if states were raising achievement and closing the achievement gap between groups of students, as measured on their own state exams.

States that had made "significant progress," under the House bill, or "the most progress," under the Senate bill, would be eligible for federal financial rewards. Those that failed to make adequate progress on their state tests and on NAEP could lose some federal money.

To measure such gaps more precisely, NAEP probably would need to test more students in various subgroups in some states and write more test items for different parts of the achievement scale, a policy approved by the board.

Vol. 20, Issue 42, Page 31

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