Board Approves Plans for NAEP Civics Tests

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Capping a year of work, the National Assessment Governing Board last week approved the blueprint for a new national test of what students know about civics and government.

At a quarterly meeting here, the board adopted the framework and test specifications that will be used to write the new National Assessment of Educational Progress test in civics. The assessment is to be given to 4th, 8th, and 12th graders in 1998, after a field test next year.

NAEP, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Education, is the only ongoing national measure of student knowledge in a variety of academic subjects. The congressionally mandated tests have been given to a sampling of K-12 students since 1969.

An assessment in civics was last given in 1988. The governing board, which sets policy for NAEP, ordered a new test in light of changes in the field and the 1994 publication of voluntary national standards for civic education.

The results of the new civics assessment will not be comparable with those of the 1988 test. But to offer a limited look at trends, officials plan to conduct a separate and smaller test in 1998 using some of the 1988 test items.

Based on Standards

Officials said the new NAEP civics framework is based heavily on the well-received national standards. (See Education Week, Nov. 23, 1994.)

The Center for Civic Education in Calabasas, Calif., which drafted the civics standards, oversaw the creation of the testing framework along with the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers and the Palo Alto, Calif.-based American Institutes for Research.

Those organizations assembled a drafting committee that included teachers, curriculum specialists, teacher-educators, assessment experts, and others. Overall, more than 500 people had input through formal reviews, public hearings, and student forums.

The framework expects students to demonstrate a variety of skills and knowledge, such as understanding the U.S. Constitution, being able to take and defend a position on a public issue, and recognizing the "traits of private and public character essential to the preservation and improvement of American constitutional democracy." (See box, this page.)

The framework calls for test items to be based on a variety of materials, such as quotations, political cartoons, or sample ballots. Sixty percent of test time is to be spent on multiple-choice items, with the other 40 percent devoted to open-ended items that ask the student to write either a short answer or a longer response.

Over five years, the civics assessment is expected to cost $8.7 million, compared with $10.1 million over five years for the national assessment in U.S. history.

The governing board directed test writers to cover "civil society," or the nongovernmental aspects of citizenship, in the assessment. The board also called for a preface to the public edition of the framework emphasizing the importance of that subject, which has drawn renewed interest of late from political thinkers and writers.

Board members also directed that the test specifications, a separate document, be released.

Design Plan Reworked

In other business, board members discussed a revised set of draft recommendations for the redesign of NAEP, which is to take effect in 2000. (See Education Week, Jan. 24, 1996.)

Since the last board meeting in January, the draft has been reworked to focus less on dictating specifics. While board members had earlier suggested that NAEP be given every year at both the national and state levels, the revised plan calls for state assessments to be conducted every two years.

The plan also backs away from outlining which subjects should be tested when, saying only that of the subject areas in which NAEP tests, the assessments in reading, writing, mathematics, and science "will be given priority." Recommendations about the number of test questions and the length of time of the test have been deleted.

Final board action on the plan is expected in August.

Last week, board members also expressed serious misgivings about an outside evaluation of NAEP now in the works, and agreed to send a letter to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley. The Education Department has awarded, without competition, a contract to the National Academy of Sciences for a three-year, $2 million study. Board members say the effort, funded from the NAEP budget, is too costly.

A NAGB committee report argues that the evaluation "is likely to study many of the wrong things, asking many of the wrong questions, and ... will result in a report in 1998, too late to be useful."

Board members were especially sensitive to budgetary limits because its executive committee had just finished a session in which it set priorities at the request of the Education Department.

Fiscal 1996 budget bills pending in the House and Senate would provide $32.6 million for NAEP, while the Education Department had requested $38 million. (See story, page 25.)

The executive committee put the highest priority on increasing the number of grade levels to be tested at the state level in 1998, producing test items for the 1998 writing assessment consistent with new test specifications, and conducting a field test of the 12th-grade arts assessment.

The panel dropped its support of a pilot test of a computerized version of NAEP and of a 1998 study of whether items from the separate reading and writing tests could do double duty.

Copies of the civics framework are available from the National Assessment Governing Board, 800 North Capitol St. N.W., Suite 825, Washington, D.C. 20002. It is expected to be available on the Internet this spring.

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