Curriculum

NAEP Board Is Seeking A Consensus on Reading

By Robert Rothman — September 27, 1989 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Entering one of the most emotional and divisive debates in education, the governing board of the National Assessment of Educational Progress has begun the thorny task of creating objectives for its 1992 4th-grade reading test.

Beginning this week, the board will hold a series of public hearings nationwide aimed at developing a consensus on the skills and knowledge to be tested on the assessment. During the summer, the board sent out 1,600 letters inviting both the public and reading specialists to the hearings.

The outcome of the six-month process could exert a strong influence on state curricula, because the 1992 assessment will be the first to include state-by-state comparisons of reading-achievement scores.

In addition, observers say, the assessment would likely be used to help measure progress toward any national goals in student achievement that emerge from this week’s summit between President Bush and the nation’s governors.

But many board members and reading experts contend that the board faces an uphill task in trying to reach an agreement on the highly contentious issue of how to measure reading performance in the primary grades. The board must accommodate views that range from a heavy emphasis on phonics, or letter-to-sound identification, to a “whole language” approach that stresses reading in context.

“Getting an agreement will take quite a lot of palaver,” said the panel’s chairman, Chester E. Finn Jr., professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University. “Primary-grade reading is probably the stage of reading that is most controversial in America.”

States Want ‘a Role’

The process for developing a common view on the goals and content of the reading assessment is one of the most elaborate undertaken by naep’s policymaking body, according to State Representative Wilhelmina F. Delco of Texas, chairman of the governing board’s reading committee.

“We have tried to bend over backwards to increase awareness of what we are doing and raise the level of participation,” she said.

In the past, when naep conducted a national assessment only, Mr. Finn added, fewer people participated in the process.

“When you administer a test on which states are going to be compared,” he said, “it is legitimate for states to want to know what’s in it, and to have a role in it, to ensure that the test is a tolerable facsimile of what they teach.”

The 1990 8th-grade mathematics assessment will also be conducted at the state level. But for that test, Mr. Finn said, naep relied on the standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which had already laid the groundwork for consensus-building in that field.

By contrast, no comparable effort has been undertaken by a reading group, Mr. Finn noted.

In addition to plowing new ground, the board must also contend with sharp political divisions over methods of teaching reading. Both reading specialists and lay people have strongly held beliefs on the issue, said P. David Pearson, dean of the college of education at the University of Illinois.

Religion, Not Science

“Reading is more a religion than a science,” he told the board at its quarterly meeting here this month.

Mr. Pearson and Connie Juel, professor of reading at the University of Texas, outlined for the board their differing views of reading and the implications those views hold for the assessment.

According to Ms. Juel, naep assessments tend to place too great an emphasis on reading-comprehension skills, and not enough on the more basic skills of word recognition and oral-language comprehension, or understanding what words mean.

As a result, she said, analyses of the assessments may mask problems in the basic skills.

“I’m concerned about a great number of kids who do poorly on the test not because they can’t reason, but because they can’t recognize words,” Ms. Juel said. “We’ve got to make sure kids can do that.”

“Before you assess how fast you can run,” she added, “first assess how well you stand on your own two feet.”

But Mr. Pearson warned that such an assessment might prompt schools to focus on the basic skills, when in fact many experts believe students can learn those skills implicitly while they learn comprehension.

Rather than test discrete skills, he said, the assessment should “minimize the gap between what readers do when they read and what they do on the test.”

Faced with such disparate views, Mr. Finn said the board might conclude that it is unable to devise a single reading assessment.

“It’s possible we’ll end up with a multiple-format assessment,” he said, noting that naep currently assesses writing by using several formats. “I hope not.”

The dates and locations for the board’s public hearings on the 1992 assessment are as follows: Sept. 27, Dallas (Richland College, Performance Hall); Oct. 11, Trenton, N.J. (Trenton Board of Education); Oct. 26, Los Angeles (Los Angeles County Board Room, Downey); and Nov. 3, Atlanta (Georgia Tech, Southern Regional Education Board Headquarters).

More information is available from the National Assessment Governing Board, Mary E. Switzer Building, Suite 4060, 330 C Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20202-7583; telephone: (202) 732-7885.

A version of this article appeared in the September 27, 1989 edition of Education Week as NAEP Board Is Seeking A Consensus on Reading

Events

English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum Opinion Media Coverage of Critical Race Theory Misses the Mark
News accounts of critical race theory focus on topics that are not particularly controversial, while neglecting those that are.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Curriculum A 'War on Books': Conservatives Push for Audits of School Libraries
After Texas banned critical race theory in schools, battles grew heated in the conservative suburbs surrounding the state's largest cities.
Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times
12 min read
Image of books.
iStock/Getty
Curriculum Texas Lawmaker Demands Districts Provide Lists of Books on Racism, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ
The Texas attorney general candidate's request has received criticism from educator groups who say the inquiry is politically motivated.
Eleanor Dearman, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
3 min read
Image of books on a library shelf.
iStock/Getty
Curriculum Teachers' Use of Standards-Aligned Curricula Slowed During the Pandemic
More math teachers are using standards-aligned materials than English/language arts teachers, according to RAND survey results.
4 min read
Illustration of a grading rubric.
priyanka gupta/iStock/Getty