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Published in Print: November 28, 2001, as Governing Board Considers Scrapping Long-Term NAEP

Governing Board Considers Scrapping Long-Term NAEP

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The board that oversees the federal testing program has resurrected the prospect of abandoning its long-term trend assessment.

Members of the National Assessment Governing Board, or NAGB, considered scrapping that part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 1999 in order to give the assessment's state-by-state tests more often. At that time, they decided to go ahead and administer the long-term test in 2002, but recent problems with the assessment have forced board members to reconsider their earlier decision.

Gary W. Phillips

A number of questions are outdated, while grammatical problems show up in others, according to Gary W. Phillips, the acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, the branch of the Department of Education responsible for the nation's "report card."

NAGB members found that some items in the science portion of the test are "obsolete or irrelevant in light of current scientific knowledge," Mr. Phillips said in a letter to Roy Truby, the executive director of the governing board, that was released at NAGB's Nov. 16 meeting.

The long-term trend test differs, for example, from the NAEP science test released last week. In the trend test, the questions are always the same. In the so-called main NAEP, the questions vary from year to year and follow current pedagogical thinking and practices.

Mr. Phillips also argued in his letter that some background items asked on the trend test "could be regarded as poor quality, inappropriately personal, intrusive, or controversial."

That letter prompted the first systematic review of the questions in the trend test by the board.

NAGB cut the trend writing assessment in 1999 after Mr. Phillips revealed that data were no longer reliable because of errors in the scoring model. Besides science, trend tests continue to be administered in reading and mathematics.

In addition to the problems with the content questions and background items, the trend NAEP suffered the largest security breach in its 32-year history earlier this year when a Minnesota group posted some reading questions from the test on its Web site. ("NAEP Security Breached by Posting on Web Site," Oct. 24, 2001.)

Diane Ravitch

That breach alone may not signal the end of the test. "I don't think very many people will look at the questions on the Web," said Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University and a member of the governing board.

Worthy Data?

While the breach is a serious matter, Ms. Ravitch said, the larger question is "whether the test continues to give information that is worth having."

That's because some questions are outdated, she said. For example, the test still asks seniors the same question about computers that it did in 1977.

But changing the test to bring the questions up to date could irreparably alter the assessment that many educators and policymakers value because it has remained fundamentally the same for three decades.

"If you change the wording and update it, it's no longer the same question," said Ms. Ravitch, who advocated keeping the assessment until she had reviewed some questions in the reading section. Now, she said, she will wait to hear what comes out of upcoming discussions planned by the governing board before she voices an opinion.

Among other issues addressed at this month's meeting of the governing board:

  • A new framework for the main mathematics assessment was adopted. The 12th grade assessment, for example, will include more advanced material in algebra, geometry, and statistics and probability.
  • The board voted to launch a national public review that could lead to changes in the state reading assessment before it is scheduled to be administered again in 2006.
  • A world history test will be given in states for the first time in 2005, the board decided. That same year, NAEP assessments will also be administered in civics and economics.

In other news, Mr. Truby, 62, announced that he will retire as the executive director of the governing board as of next Oct. 31. A former state schools chief in Idaho and West Virginia, he has held the position since 1989.

Vol. 21, Issue 13, Page 22

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