Attempts to expand the testing of 12th graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress have the support of the White House, but that potential overhaul awaits approval from a key panel, which is weighing the implications.
The National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the closely scrutinized NAEP, voted unanimously last month at a meeting in Atlanta to table a decision on whether to endorse such a change until August at the earliest.
In doing so, members of the 26-person governing board voiced worries about expanding the 12th grade test at a time when the federally sponsored assessment is struggling to maintain sufficiently high participation for its current, more limited sample of high school seniors.
“Motivation and participation are probably the most pivotal issues with the 12th grade NAEP,” said board member Michael E. Ward, a former North Carolina schools superintendent. “We owe the president and members of Congress our best thinking on this issue.”
NAEP, often called “the nation’s report card,” is relied upon by education researchers, policymakers, and the public as a crucial, independent indicator of students’ academic proficiency in a number of subjects, particularly reading and mathematics.
At present, all states must participate in NAEP at the 4th and 8th grade levels if they want to remain eligible for specified federal funding. But 12th grade testing is conducted only on a more limited scale. Earlier this year, President Bush suggested making it mandatory for states to participate in the 12th grade NAEP in reading and math, a position that closely mirrors the recommendation of an independent commission in 2004.
Current federal law allows for the expansion of voluntary testing at the 12th grade level, an option that could be explored at the governing board’s next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 4-6 in Washington. But establishing a mandatory state-by-state 12th grade NAEP would require congressional approval, several board members said.
Chairman Darvin M. Winick does not believe the panel is opposed to such a change. “I don’t think there’s a problem with support,” Mr. Winick said. “The question is how to do it well.”
Department of Education spokeswoman Susan Aspey noted that President Bush has proposed $22.5 million in his fiscal 2006 budget for the 12th grade expansion. “We are pleased that [the governing board] continues to move toward state-by-state NAEP … so that we know if all students are learning,” she said.
Board members have been considering a number of options to raise seniors’ flagging participation and interest in the test, such as offering individual students feedback on their scores. Yet at the Atlanta meeting, held May 19-21, a NAGB committee questioned the legality of such a move.
“Nothing is as easy as it seems,” Mr. Ward said. “What seems like a no-brainer becomes pretty complicated.”