Assessment

11 States Poised to Pilot National Test for 12th Graders

By Sean Cavanagh — March 18, 2008 3 min read

For the first time, a select group of states is expected to take part in a 12th grade version of the National Assessment of Educational Progress in reading and mathematics, a move that could lay the foundation for even greater state participation at that grade level on the heavily scrutinized test.

The board that sets policy for NAEP, known as “the nation’s report card,” has approved tentative plans to have 11 states voluntarily participate in the exam.

Each of those states would have a representative sample of its high school seniors take part in a reading and math NAEP beginning in 2009, a process that would eventually allow for state-by-state comparisons of high school seniors’ scores.

The National Assessment Governing Board approved the 12th grade proposal at its quarterly meeting, held March 6-8 in Albuquerque, N.M.

The board also set in motion plans to add seven big-city districts to the special NAEP edition for urban school systems. Eleven districts took part in the most recent version of the Trial Urban District Assessment, which was given in reading and math in grades 4 and 8.

Currently, states are required to participate in NAEP reading and math every two years at the 4th and 8th grade levels in order to remain eligible for federal funding under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Those 4th and 8th grade scores, called state NAEP, typically receive widespread attention because they allow the public to judge individual states’ academic progress over time—and compare states against one another. There is no such mandate for 12th grade, though some elected officials, including President Bush, have advocated expanding the state-by-state tests to high school seniors.

Federal officials will not release the names of the states and urban districts that have voiced an interest in joining in the expanded NAEP until they go back to policymakers from those jurisdictions and make certain they want to go forward, said Charles E. Smith, the executive director of the governing board. Those agreements could become final in the next few weeks, he said.

‘The Real Meaning’

While federal officials believe the first 12th grade state NAEP will occur next year, it has yet to be determined whether those exams will take place every two years or less regularly, Mr. Smith said.

A separate NAEP, the long-term trend, is given to 17-year-old students, as well as children ages 9 and 13. It provides a nationwide snapshot of trends in reading and math performance. But policymakers in the 11 volunteer states have told federal officials they want more detailed, state-specific information about high school students’ performance than the national trend tests can provide, Mr. Smith said.

State officials have said “the real meaning comes from the state-level [exam], and what it can tell them,” said Mr. Smith, who noted that he was “very encouraged” by the state interest in 12th grade NAEP so far.

Budget Backing

The expansion of the urban-district NAEP and the creation of new 12th grade state reading and math tests became possible with President Bush’s approval of the fiscal 2008 federal budget in December. It provides an $11 million increase for NAEP and the governing board, to $104 million, from the previous year. Members of Congress have also voiced support for expanding the urban test and adding the reading and math exams for seniors.

And if the Bush administration has its way, more 12th graders will be taking part in NAEP in the future. In his fiscal 2009 budget proposal, the president called for a 33 percent increase in spending for the assessment and the governing board, to $139 million. That spending boost would allow the “12th grade state NAEP to include all states in 2011,” according to the administration’s budget summary.

BRIC ARCHIVE

Michael D. Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, in Washington, said he called urban leaders in various districts last fall to ask them to consider joining the urban NAEP. His organization, which represents urban districts, has worked closely with federal officials in organizing the urban assessment.

“We’re thrilled with the expansion,” Mr. Casserly said. “It gives participating districts a way of comparing against each other.”

But Mr. Casserly also said he warned district leaders to expect the news media to dwell—unfairly, in his view—on how big-city scores lag behind those of the overall public school student population.

To reporters, “it never seems to matter much that we’re improving,” he said, referring to recent NAEP gains among some districts.

A version of this article appeared in the March 19, 2008 edition of Education Week as 11 States Poised to Pilot National Test for 12th Graders

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