Ed. Dept. Wants More Data From Students Taking NAEP

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For the first time ever, the Department of Education wants to piggyback a survey about 12th graders' postsecondary education choices onto the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The survey would be added to the NAEP tests taken by seniors in 2002, and some of those students would then be polled again two years later. If approved by the assessment's governing board and Congress, the survey would mark a significant departure from longstanding practice in the NAEP program. Currently, the national assessment does not identify individual students or track them over time.

Known as the nation's report card, NAEP is the only ongoing, nationally representative measure of what students know and are able to do in several core academic subjects. It has been given since 1969 to samplings of students in grades 4, 8, and 12.

Student surveys are already used in the national assessment, but they collect background information to give context to students' performance on the test, such as parents' levels of education and how much television students watch.

What helps make the addition of a survey to NAEP appealing is that for the first time the Education Department and others could analyze postsecondary education choices and access in light of students' academic achievement on the test.

The proposal would involve tracking a subset of 12th graders who take NAEP exams in reading and writing in 2002--perhaps 9,000 of the 18,000 to 20,000 students tested, said Pascal D. Forgione Jr., the commissioner of the department's National Center for Education Statistics.

Students would fill out a one-page, five-minute questionnaire at the end of the 2002 exam. It would ask them the highest degree they planned to attain, the number of applications they made to postsecondary institutions, the names and locations of the students' first- and second-choice institutions, whether they were accepted at their first choice, and if they applied for financial aid.

Then, in 2004, a subsample of students would be asked in telephone interviews about their enrollment in college, participation in the labor force, and other questions.

A Lure for Schools

The statistics center now uses several longitudinal studies of high schoolers to gain information about students' postsecondary access and choice, but they are repeated only once every 10 years or so. Officials in the executive branch and in Congress want more information collected more often, according to Mr. Forgione.

Those officials want to know, for instance, what kinds of choices students make about college, whether they are dipping into new streams of college-aid funding, and if availability of that money makes a difference in their college choices, he said. The survey could help federal officials track, for example, use of the new $1,500 HOPE Scholarship tax credits for the first two years of higher education, Mr. Forgione said.

An entirely new longitudinal study would cost $15 million, a significant dent in the statistics center's $59 million budget, he said. The proposed survey attached to the national assessment would run about $2.5 million, and the NCES--not the NAEP program--would absorb the cost, Mr. Forgione said.

"My goal in this is to be efficient and effective in the national data collection," he said. "That's why I'm trying to ... see if we can't utilize a mechanism that's already in place with just an incremental adjustment."

The proposed survey would be a pilot study that, if successful, could be repeated on regular two- or four-year cycles. And, in addition to its use by federal officials, Mr. Forgione said, high schools could benefit from the information.

"We could give back some research to these schools on the postsecondary experiences of their students. That would be something very rich they don't have now," he said.

With officials finding it increasingly difficult to persuade schools to take on the burden of another student test like NAEP, Mr. Forgione sees the proposed survey as a lure. "I could sell this to high school principals as a way to stay in NAEP," he said.

Caution, Vigilance

When officials from the statistics center presented their written plan to the executive committee of the National Assessment Governing Board on Jan. 21, members of the independent, bipartisan board were wary.

"There's some sympathy for saving money and getting information out more quickly," Mark D. Musick, the governing board's chairman, said in an interview last week. "But this raises some questions about student confidentiality of information, and I think the board will be very, very cautious."

Students taking the assessment now are identified only at the school level. For the new study, the Education Department would need to obtain students' names and addresses. But Mr. Forgione emphasized that his agency is vigilant about maintaining the confidentiality of personal information it collects.

Mr. Forgione said it is unclear whether the survey would require a change in the NAEP legislation, which is up for congressional reauthorization this year. According to Mr. Musick, the commissioner assured board members that he would not seek approval from Congress without a green light from the 26-member panel.

Another committee of the governing board is to review the proposal. But Jay Diskey, a spokesman for Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said, "Given our experience with [the Clinton] administration on the issue of standards and assessment, this Congress will scrutinize any proposal that expands any federal test in any way."

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