The nonpartisan board that governs the “nation’s report card” is complaining that Vice President Al Gore jeopardized the integrity of the tests when he announced 1998 reading results to a campaign-style rally last month.
“The format, tone, and substance of that event [where Mr. Gore was the lead speaker] was not consistent with the principle of an independent, nonpartisan release of ... data,” Mark D. Musick, the chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, wrote last month in a letter to Pascal D. Forgione Jr., the federal commissioner of education statistics for the Department of Education.
| Mark D. Musick questioned Al Gore’s role in the Feb. 10 NAEP briefing. |
--Benjamin Tice Smith
At the Feb. 10 event unveiling the national results of the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress reading exam, the vice president was the featured speaker in a room in which education lobbyists and political appointees at the Education Department received the best seats. Mr. Gore, who is considered the favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination next year, was greeted with and departed to standing ovations.
A policy set by the NAEP governing board calls for Mr. Forgione to officially announce the tests’ results. Only then are political appointees supposed to comment on them. To comply with those rules, Mr. Forgione released the 1998 reading results on the World Wide Web an hour before Mr. Gore spoke. (“Federal File,” Feb. 24, 1999.)
Seeking More Coverage
The New York Times wrote, as Mr. Musick noted in his Feb. 18 letter, that the Feb. 10 event was “more political than usual” for NAEP releases.
Department officials structured the event the way they did, Mr. Forgione said in an interview last week, because they thought it would draw more media coverage than the standard forum in which he presents data before others comment on it.
The event’s atmosphere undermined the credibility of the results, Mr. Musick suggested in his letter. Unless the board’s policy of neutral presentations is followed, “it eventually won’t matter how much attention is paid to the results; people won’t believe them,” he wrote.
In the interview, Mr. Forgione appeared to agree. He added that the Feb. 10 incident was “anomalous” and would damage NAEP’s reputation if it happened that way regularly.
Last week, Mr. Gore did not attend the news conference called to announce state-by-state results of the 1998 reading exam.
But the third paragraph in the Education Department press release distributed at the event included the following quote from the vice president: “While today’s news is a measure of the progress we have made together, it is also a yardstick showing how far we still need to go. Too much depends on how well our children read for us to allow a single child not to read well.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 10, 1999 edition of Education Week as Board Contends Gore’s Role Politicized NAEP Release