Democrats Seek To Prevent From Joining NAEP Panel

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Washington--A group of House Democrats, warning of the potential for "politicization" of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, has asked Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos to withdraw the nominations of three members of naep's new governing board.

The 23-member board, which under newly enacted legislation would have substantially more authority over the assessment's content and design than naep's previous governing body, was appointed last month by former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett. The appointments became effective Oct. 1.

In a Sept. 27 letter, Augustus F. Hawkins of California, chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, and 13 other Democrats charged that Mr. Bennett's appointments failed to meet "the high standards of expertise and balance intended by Congress."

Conflicts of Interest Cited

In particular, they cited the appointments of Chester E. Finn Jr., the former assistant secretary; Herbert J. Walberg, professor of education at the University of Illinois; and Mark D. Musick, vice president of the Southern Regional Education Board.

"If the process of governing naep is politicized," the letter warned, "if it becomes the plaything of those who would use federal funding to test their own pet ideas of what works, the value of naep will be destroyed."

The House members contended that Mr. Finn's appointment "raises several concerns of apparent and potential conflicts of interest."

As assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, Mr. Finn had responsibility for the assessment, the letter pointed out, and was involved in a controversy over the use of naep data in his 1987 book, What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?

Moreover, they argued, Mr. Finn's position on the naep board could give him an unfair advantage in his new job as director of the Educational Excellence Network. Officials of the network have announced plans to issue an annual "report card" on the state of American education, which could include naep data, the Democrats noted.

"Mr. Finn would have privileged early access to information regarding naep results, which could be used by the 'Educational Excellence Network' for unfair competitive advantage," the letter said. "This revolving door raises serious ethical, and perhaps legal, questions."

Testing Experts

The Democrats also argued that Mr. Walberg and Mr. Musick, who were appointed as the board's "testing and measurement experts," fail to meet Congressional standards for those posts.

"The board's testing and measurement experts should be leading figures in the field of psychometrics, should represent a diversity of approaches, and should not be closely identified with a firm conducting the naep," they wrote.

Mr. Walberg, though an eminent social scientist, is not generally considered an expert "on the methodological issues in testing and measurement," the letter contended.

Mr. Musick, it added, directed a pilot state-by-state assessment for the Educational Testing Service, naep's contractor.

The group urged Mr. Cavazos to withdraw the nominations and to conduct a new search "to select leading experts in the field of testing and measurement who represent the diversity in the field."

In addition, they asked him to provide the Congressional authorizing committees with information on how the board's appointments were made.

A spokesman for Mr. Cavazos said last week that the Secretary had received the letter but had not yet determined whether to act on its recommendations.--rr

Vol. 08, Issue 06

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