Broaden Achievement Definition for NAEP, Panel Urges

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The nation's report card needs to branch out beyond measuring paper-and-pencil skills to assess such abilities as how well students work in groups, a panel of scholars and education leaders has concluded.

Putting a greater emphasis on the active use of knowledge would make the congressionally mandated National Assessment of Educational Progress a better measure of how students reason, the panel of the National Academy of Education at Stanford University says in a new report.

"Many jobs in the future, as well as education, depend upon being able to work with others and take on various roles ... and part of assessing how children are doing would be to learn how they're doing in that regard," said Robert L. Linn, a panel co-chairman and a professor of education at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

"It's not in any way a rejection or a minimization of knowledge and skills as measured by NAEP now," he said, "but a belief that we need to know more."

A 15-member committee of the national academy has been studying NAEP for six years and was expected to issue the last of its five reports on the assessment late last week in Washington. The report, Assessment in Transition: Monitoring the Nation's Educational Progress, envisions what NAEP should be by the year 2015. The U.S. Department of Education paid for the report.

The assessment should, in the next 20 years, break down its reporting of student scores into categories of knowledge and skills, problem-solving and interpretation, and performance in groups--provided they can be shown to be valid and reliable, the report says.

AEP, which has been given since 1969, is the only nationally representative and ongoing assessment of what U.S. students know and can do in various academic subjects. The assessment is a project of the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics. The independent National Assessment Governing Board sets policy for NAEP.

Currently, NAEP examinations use multiple-choice and open-ended answers, measuring students' basic and critical-thinking skills. The program does not assess group work.

Courting the Press

The academy panel also urged the Education Department to orchestrate a more ambitious public information campaign following the release of assessment results. The report suggests the secretary of education and the commissioner of education statistics "encourage the major television networks, leading national newspapers, and other publications to do extended feature stories" on the results.

The panel recommended that officials who run NAEP can meet some of the goals by using technology to create and score NAEP exercises. This "will allow the measurement of higher-order thinking skills and contributions to group problem-solving in ways not currently available," the report says.

To that end, the academy group proposed that NAEP officials undertake a research and development program to apply technology to aiding the national assessment's goals and objectives. Recommended topics include the use of computers in NAEP and adaptations for students with disabilities.

William T. Randall, the chairman of the assessment's governing board, said in a prepared statement that the panel offered "useful recommendations."

He said the suggestions are consistent with policies adopted by the board last year when it redesigned NAEP: providing a predictable, long-term schedule of assessments; promoting the means by which state and international assessments can be compared with the national assessment; expanding dissemination of and access to NAEP reports and data; and using advances in technology.

For More Information:

Copies of Assessment in Transition: Monitoring the Nation's Educational Progress are available for $32 each, prepaid, including shipping and handling, from the National Academy of Education, CERAS Building, Room 108, Stanford, Calif. 94305-3084; (415) 725-1003.

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Web Resources
  • National Assessment Governing Board. Learn about the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the only ongoing, national test of academic progress.
  • Improving America's Schools: Creating Better Student Assessments. This newsletter, one of a series of Newsletters on Issues in School Reform from the U.S. Department of Education, provides an overview of the issues affecting state student-assessment systems, including assessment requirements under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1994.
  • Assessment. This section of the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory's "Pathways to School Improvement" Web site leads to several informative and well-linked articles on assessment, as well as to other resources.
  • The Use and Misuse of Test Scores in Reform Debate. This 1994 RAND policy brief points out that "over the last two decades, test scores have been cited, variously, as sure and certain signs of U.S. educational decline or as indicators that particular types of reform are 'working.'"

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