Measure Would Alter Data-Gathering Activities

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WASHINGTON--The omnibus reauthorization bill expected to win final approval this month contains two initiatives to alter the Education Department's statistics-gathering system, one cautious and the other dramatic.

The legislation, HR 5, recently hammered into its final form by a conference committee, would expand the National Assessment of Educational Progress to cover more subject areas and to include, for the first time, state-by-state assessments.

Proponents of the expansion said last week that they were pleased with the bill, although they had hoped it would go further.

"I'd give it a 'B,''' said Chester E. Finn Jr., the department's assistant secretary for educational research and improvement.

The other statistics provision would sever the Center for Education Statistics, which oversees NAEP and other assessment endeavors, from the rest of Mr. Finn's operation.

The new statistics center would be headed by a Presidentially appointed commissioner with authority to hire personnel, and would be given its own line item in the department's budget and its own contracting and publication authority.

Those "far-reaching changes ... refashion basic elements of bureaucratic turf,'' Emerson J. Elliott, director of the current center, said at a recent conference of the American Educational Research Association. "These measures seemed so unlikely a year ago, yet they emerged from conference not with the usually expected compromises but with extra strengthening features.''

An aide said Representative Peter J. Visclosky, Democrat of Indiana, whose amendment attached the provisions to HR 5, was motivated by a National Academy of Sciences report that urged strengthening of the statistics branch. He said the structure was modeled after the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau.

"Our motive was not to strip the Education Department of any influence or power,'' the aide said. But he acknowledged that the changes would have that effect.

"We were trying to ensure that data supplied by the center are free of any partisan influence,'' the aide said. "We were looking at the broader picture of trying to strengthen things. It wasn't a vindictive thing. We weren't trying to get back at the department.''

'Disrupted Once More'

Both Mr. Finn and Mr. Elliott declined last week to comment on the provisions, which were opposed by the Administration.

But Mr. Finn complained at the AERA conference that "what has for several years been a reasonably stable organizational structure is about to be massively disrupted once more.''

Before they were consolidated into OERI in 1985, the statistics center, the Center for Libraries and Education Information, and the National Institute of Education--analagous to OERI's nonstatistical research branches--operated as separate arms of the Education Department with varying degrees of autonomy.

"In truth, the organizational trappings are almost identical to those of the NIE, although this time they pertain to the statistical rather than the research side of the house,'' Mr. Finn said. "I'm struck, too, by the parallelism of the underlying motives: ... a desire for the function embodied in the new agency to have higher status, greater visibility, more resources, and thicker insulation from political influence.''

Mr. Finn's speech focused on the need for more nonstatistical research funding, and warned that the restructuring would contribute to a decline in that function.

Mr. Elliott--who would retain the helm of the new center until 1991 under HR 5--carefully avoided expressing an opinion on the desirability of the restructuring in his remarks to researchers. But he said the center must not become too far removed from the rest of OERI

The legislation "may insulate the center from political winds, as its sponsors sought to do,'' he told AERA members, "and it will surely alter bureaucratic balances among OERI programs and authorities.''

"But if either of these is true, then the center must redouble its aggressiveness to assure that insulation does not become isolation from reality,'' Mr. Elliott said.

Compromise Called 'Fair'

The NAEPNAEP provisions implement key recommendations of a blue-ribbon panel convened last year by Education Secretary William J. Bennett, but are less ambitious than the Administration's proposal and the legislation passed by the Senate.

"We think the compromise is very fair,'' said Gregory Anrig, president of the Educational Testing Service, the current NAEP contractor.

"On the one hand, it might have been advantageous to go farther sooner, but in other terms it's easy to see what the pitfalls are and to see the merit of proceeding more carefully and more slowly,'' said Ramsey Selden, director of the state education assessment center of the Council of Chief State School Officers, a prominent proponent of the expansion.
The approved provisions would:

  • Mandate that students in 4th, 8th, and 12th grade be assessed at least once every two years in reading and mathematics, at least once every four years in writing and science, and at least once every six years in history, geography, and other subject areas to be chosen by NAEP governing board.
  • Authorize experimental assessments in 1990 and 1992 in mathematics and reading, respectively, that would collect data allowing for comparisons between states. The mathematics assessment would be administered to 4th and 8th graders, and the reading assessment would cover one grade level to be determined later.

State participation in the state-specific assessment program would be voluntary, and participating states would pay part of its cost.

  • Establish a new National Assessment Governing Board, which is to include state officials, administrators, teachers, and researchers.
  • Authorize $9.5 million for NAEP in 1989 and $11.7 million in 1990, and extend the program through 1993.

The final language also specifically forbids NAEP to collect data "not directly related to the appraisal of educational performance, achievements, and traditional demographic reporting variables'' or to use its data to compare individual students, schools, or districts.

Vol. 07, Issue 30

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