Clinton May Seek NAEP Board Role in New Tests

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The Clinton administration may try to involve the National Assessment Governing Board in the governance of the new voluntary national tests that the president is promoting, says his education adviser, Michael Cohen.

The governing board, a citizens' panel, sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation's report card. NAEP, which measures achievement by a national sample of students in a variety of core academic subjects, is a project of the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics.

The assessment, which has been conducted since 1969, delivers results for student performance across the nation and the states but by law cannot report individual scores. The new tests that President Clinton proposes for 4th grade reading and 8th grade math--which would be based on the NAEP exams in those subjects--would report the achievement of individual students to schools and parents.

Mr. Cohen, who made his comments here May 9 to a quarterly meeting of the governing board, said that under current law, NAGB could not be involved in the president's initiative. But the launch of the new testing plan this year coincides with Congress' consideration of reauthorizing the assessment and the governing board.

A top House Republican, meanwhile, made an unsuccessful bid last week to stop the administration from using current funds to pay for the new program. ("Rep. Goodling Fails To Block Funding for New Tests," in This Week's News. )

A just-completed survey of some of NAEP's users turned up results that are generally consistent with the revamping of the national assessment now under way, according to a draft shared with the board.

The survey, conducted this year for the Education Department's statistics center by the private Education Statistics Services Institute in Washington, drew on written questionnaires and focus groups. Between 400 and 500 questionnaires were mailed to state assessment directors, chief state school officers, state legislative aides, governors' aides, and others; the response rate was 84 percent.

A majority of respondents said that they would like to see NAEP exams administered in at least some subjects every year. Now, the national assessment is given in two or more subject areas every other year; the redesign calls for testing every year, although not in the same subjects each time.

Respondents also urged the release of results more quickly after the exam has been given, even if it means sacrificing the collection of background data of students and schools. In the past, reports have come out 10 months to 27 months after the exam.

A little-known task force within the Education Department is working to improve math achievement nationwide.

"We're looking across the department at all our resources and identifying where we are already doing things in math education that we could tighten up, strengthen, be more proactive in," Judy Wurtzel, the initiative's director, said in an interview last week following a presentation at the nagb meeting. The aim, she said, is to create strategies for boosting students' math performance, provide tools to administrators and teachers, and get information out to parents.

The task force plans to disseminate materials about best practices in math education. This summer, it plans to release a curriculum "toolbox," which would allow school officials to analyze their own math curricula in light of the expectations on NAEP and the Third International Mathematics and Science Study.

--MILLICENT LAWTON [email protected]

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