Board Cuts Back on Several NAEP Tests in Response to Budget Cuts

By Sarah D. Sparks — August 02, 2013 3 min read
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[Update, 1:45 p.m.]

Baltimore, Md.

Several national tests in the suite known as the Nation’s Report Card have become another victim of the federal sequester cuts.

The 2015 budget estimates by the federal Office of Management and Budget, project a 5 percent cut to the National Assessment of Educational Progress as part of the fallout from the federal sequester cuts. [UPDATE (1:45 p.m.): The $138.3 million NAEP budget covers both the National Assessment of Educational Progress and its supervising body, the National Assessment Governing Board—providing the National Center for Education Statistics with $129.6 to administer the tests for fiscal 2013, before taking into account the sequester cuts. Those slashed NAEP’s budget for fiscal 2013 to $122.8 million. The OMB (perhaps optimistically) projected Congress would approve President Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget, which would give NAEP a slight boost, to $124.6 million. However, OMB also projected NAEP would face an addition cut in fiscal 2015 of 5 percent, or more than $6 million, followed by flat funding in fiscal 2016 and 2017.

Because NAEP has to plan assessment contracts several years in advance, the governing board couldn’t wait to find out which potential cuts and raises will stick: The board voted unanimously at a meeting here Saturday to trim parts of the main NAEP assessment for 2015 and cut nearly all ancillary tests during that cycle, including:

• In the main NAEP, reading and mathematics will be administered as usual, with samples of about 3,000 students per subject, per grade in each state. However, the board will not expand the 12th grade sample in reading, math, or science to allow state-level as well as national results, as it had planned for 2015.
• In addition, main NAEP state samples in science will be cut back to 1,000 per grade, per state, in grades 4 and 8. “That will still allow accurate state-level results in science [in grades 4 and 8], but it will make it difficult to see results for groups [such as by race or English-language proficiency] unless they are very large within the state,” said Lawrence Feinberg, the governing board’s assistant director for reporting and analysis.
• For the Trial Urban District Assessment, which provides detailed results on 21 of the country’s largest school districts, reading and math assessments will go ahead in grades 4 and 8, but science will be cut completely.
• The High School Transcript Study, which helps provide context for national assessment results with information about students’ course-taking, has been suspended “indefinitely.”
• The new computer-based Technology and Engineering Literacy test will be launched as scheduled in 2015.

The decision to cut tests from the 2015 line-up comes on the heels of the governing board voting in May to reduce the 2014 planned administration of the U.S. history, civics, and geography assessment from grades 4, 8, and 12 to only grade 8.

Long-term Trends on Hold

In addition, the governing board also unanimously voted to suspend the 2016 administration of the NAEP’s long-term trend tests, which have tracked American students’ progress in mathematics and reading for 40 years.

Unlike the primary state NAEP, which tests students in grades 4, 8, and 12, the trends NAEP assesses students at ages 9, 13, and 17. More than 17,000 public and private school students nationwide participated in the last administration of the assessment, in 2011-12.

The trends NAEP started nearly 20 years before the main NAEP and has remained mostly unchanged since its creation, allowing the trends results to be tracked over time. However, the National Center for Education Statistics administers the long-term trends tests every four years, as opposed to every other year for the main NAEP reading and math. It is uncertain yet whether the trends tests would be delayed, or a four-year cycle skipped entirely. [UPDATE (1:45 p.m.): While the current NAEP authorization (part of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law) requires some type of long-term trend assessment in reading and mathematics, it does not specify how often it must be done; eight-year cycles, or even longer, would be allowed.]

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.