Officials Weigh Offering NAEP Tests in Spanish

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Starting next year, students may be able to take the National Assessment of Educational Progress in Spanish in some subjects.

The federal program provides one of the primary barometers of student achievement in the United States. So far, it has been given only in English.

The National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, discussed at its quarterly meeting here this month the possibility of adopting Spanish-language versions of the tests and of making accommodations for testing disabled students.The board delayed making any decision until its May meeting.

The program tests as many as 20,000 students in key academic subjects each year.

In previous assessments, some 5 percent to 8 percent of the students selected with sampling techniques were not tested because they had special needs, a limited ability to speak English, or required accommodations that were not consistent with the way NAEP is administered.

The Education Department and its National Center for Education Statistics, which oversees NAEP, have been pushing to make the assessments more inclusive. The department has argued that virtually all students should be eligible to take the tests to comply with anti-discrimination laws and with NAEP's mandate. (See Education Week, May 25, 1994.)

Pilot Under Way

The statistics center is now testing a Spanish-language version of the mathematics assessment in grades 4 and 8. It has spent $1 million on the pilot, which is part of the field-test for the 1996 assessments.

The N.C.E.S. has spent another $400,000 trying out accommodations that would enable students with disabilities to take the exams. These include using Braille 1st in amher and large-print books in math, allowing students to hear and answer the questions orally, giving students more time to complete the tests, and giving the exams on a one-to-one basis.

Even if disabled and language-minority students were tested, it is not clear how their scores would be reported. Experts are concerned that giving NAEP in another language or under nonstandard conditions would produce results that could not be validly compared with those from the regular versions of the tests.

Gary Phillips, the associate commissioner of the statistics center, said he anticipates that people will want NAEP to report separate scores for disabled students and those who take the test in Spanish. But he cautioned that this would require costly oversampling of those populations.

In addition, he argued that many technical and psychometric issues must be resolved, and he urged the governing board to pass a resolution against separate reporting in 1996.

Most likely, next year's NAEP will include a Spanish version of the math test but only an experimental Spanish version of the science test. And it would only provide accommodations that have already been field-tested for students with disabilities.

'Inappropriate' Questions

In separate action at its meeting this month, the governing board adopted a policy on the type of background questions that can be asked about students and their families as part of the assessment.

The policy reiterates that NAEP should collect only data that are directly related to appraising educational performance and achievement or to reporting demographic variables. It is meant to prevent "intrusive, inappropriate, or unnecessary questions being asked about students and their families."

Under the policy, the governing board will review all background questionnaires before they are administered.

The board also directed its staff to draw up guidelines, for consideration in May, that would make it easier for parents and others to gain access to NAEP questions.

The issue arose because the North Dakota legislature is considering a bill that would require that all NAEP questions be available for parents to inspect at schools where the assessment is given for 30 days after the exam.

Federal law requires that NAEP background questions be publicly available, but makes an exception for cognitive items that the test officials plan to reuse. Officials have voluntarily adopted procedures that allow groups of parents to review test booklets, but the process is relatively complicated.

Experts said the North Dakota bill would threaten test security.

The board directed its staff to devise a policy that would make NAEP "as open to the public as possible and user-friendly," within test-security constraints.

Reporting Local Results

The Education Department is also proceeding with plans for a pilot program next year that would report NAEP data below the state level for the first time. In the past, federal law barred the reporting of data that would allow comparisons between districts or schools, but the 1994 legislation that reauthorized the N.C.E.S. did not include such a prohibition.

The department is now seeking requests from districts that wish to participate in the pilot program. At least half a dozen districts have expressed interest so far, Mr. Phillips said.

In a letter to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, urged the department to continue its longstanding policy.

He warned that district-level or school-level comparisons could corrupt the use of the assessment as a national and state indicator by encouraging educators to teach to the test.

Mr. Shanker also suggested that the availability of NAEP for below-state comparisons would reduce the incentive for states and school districts to devise innovative assessments tied to state standards.

"In effect," he wrote, "NAEP would become a national test. This may or may not be desirable. But surely if we are to have a national test, there should be a clear and open debate about it, rather than a back-door approach."

Vol. 14, Issue 25

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