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The board that sets policy for the exam known as “the nation’s report card” has begun consideration of proposals aimed at setting new, more uniform standards for testing English-language learners and students with disabilities on the widely scrutinized assessment.
A pair of draft proposals, unveiled here last week at a meeting of the National Assessment Governing Board, seek to encourage as many of those students as possible to take part in the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The guidelines aim to curb the broad disparities among states in the rates of students who are excluded from the federally sponsored assessment or provided with special testing accommodations. To critics, those differences undermine NAEP’s role as a uniform—and prized—measuring stick of student achievement across states and cities.
Two task forces were created to study the problem and suggest solutions. The task force on students with disabilities recommended setting a “clear expectation” that at least 95 percent of such students drawn for the NAEP sample take the test, in contrast to much more varied and lower participation among jurisdictions now. Under the proposal, those participation rates would be publicly reported.
Another important change would specify that students with disabilities only be allowed to receive specific testing accommodations on the assessment that were permissible under the policies of the federal test. That would mark a break from current policy, in which students’ participation in NAEP is determined by a mix of state and local decisions, including those based on the specifications of students’ individualized education programs, or IEPs, and so-called Section 504 plans.
“The whole goal is inclusion, not exclusion,” Alexa E. Posny, the chairwoman of the task force on students with disabilities, told an ad hoc committee of the governing board on Aug. 6. “That’s a totally different focus than we’ve had in the past.”
Ms. Posny, the Kansas commissioner of education, has been nominated by President Barack Obama to lead the U.S. Department of Education’s office of special education and rehabilitative services. Ms. Posny’s work on the task force was conducted for the governing board and is not connected to her presumed duties at the Education Department, she said.
A separate task force on English-language learners also recommended more-consistent NAEP guidelines for those students. It proposed that all English-learners chosen for the representative testing sample and who have attended U.S. schools for at least one year take part in the exam.
Currently, the inclusion policy is “very subjective” and varies greatly from state to state, said Sharif Shakrani, the chairman of the task force and a professor of measurement and quantitative methods at Michigan State University in East Lansing.
“Uniformity is the most important thing,” Mr. Shakrani said. “Right now, we don’t have a good makeup of ELL students in some states.”
The proposals for English-language learners and students with disabilities are expected to be offered for public comment, and possibly public hearings, before being brought back to the governing board for revisions. The board sets policy for NAEP.
In addition to that discussion, the board was scheduled to receive a draft of the framework for the NAEP in technological literacy, which is set to be administered for the first time in 2012.
The framework, which guides the design of the assessment, defines technological literacy as the “general understanding of technology coupled with a capability to use, manage, and assess the technologies that are most relevant in one’s life, such as the information and communication technologies that are particularly salient in the world today.”
Associate Editor Kathleen Kennedy Manzo contributed to this story.
A version of this article appeared in the August 12, 2009 edition of Education Week as NAEP Panels Propose More ELL, Spec. Ed. Inclusion