While policymakers debate whether the nation’s “report card” should be a piece of the federal accountability puzzle, some governors are pushing for more frequent administration of the exams.
In addition, the National Education Goals Panel voted at its recent quarterly meeting here to form a task force that would investigate ways to prod federal agencies, which provide most of the data for the panel’s annual report, to collect the information more often.
“I would love to have that national checkup” in major subjects every other year, North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. said at the Feb. 26 gathering of the panel.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress currently measures student achievement in four core subjects—reading, writing, mathematics, and science—every four years, on a staggered basis.
NAEP tests are being given this year to 4th graders and 8th graders in math and science for the first time since 1996. The tests will yield national averages as well as state-by-state results for the 40 or so states that garner enough students to ensure a solid sample size. The testing program also will produce a national average for 4th grade reading. In 1998, NAEP collected state-by-state and national results in reading for grades 4 and 8.
Tests in other subjects—such as civics and art—are administered less often.
But Mr. Hunt and other members of the goals panel, which includes governors, state legislators, and federal officials, say they want fresher NAEP data, especially in the four core subjects.
Most states gather student-achievement data via their own exams, but also want to compare their students with a national sample. The ideal, said Gov. Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin, would be to offer NAEP’s reading and writing tests one year and the math and science exams the next, and keep the alternating-year pattern going.
Mr. Thompson, the goals panel’s chairman and a Republican, and Mr. Hunt, a Democrat, made their comments during a wide-ranging discussion about the need to increase the regularity of the data included in the panel’s annual report marking progress toward the national education goals.
As measures to show improvement in math achievement, for example, the goals panel could only cite changes between 1990 and 1996 on the NAEP math exam. Since then, the federal government has increased the frequency of testing to every four years. The science exam was given for the first time in 1996.
Other data were equally lagging. Statistics on adult literacy—the sixth of the eight national goals—were collected in 1992.
The panel hopes to help rectify the situation with the formation of its task force, which will be headed by former Gov. John R. McKernan Jr. of Maine. The Republican chaired the goals panel in 1994.
When it comes to NAEP, the chairman of the board that oversees the assessment program cautioned governors that their ideas faced several roadblocks.
To make the more frequent testing viable, the National Assessment Governing Board probably would want assurances that at least 35 states would participate in NAEP every year. States have struggled this year to gather the participants needed to ensure accurate sample sizes for state-by-state comparisons. At least seven of the 48 state that had pledged to participate failed to collect enough schools to qualify. (“Test-Weary Schools Balk at NAEP,” Feb. 16, 2000.)
“This would require a ratcheting up of the nation’s will to do [more frequent testing],” said Mark D. Musick, the president of the Southern Regional Education Board and the chairman of the NAEP governing board. “Until we solve some problems we have [on the current schedule], I wouldn’t want to go to testing every year.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 08, 2000 edition of Education Week as Key Governors Want NAEP Given More Often