The board that oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress is aiming to promote greater consistency among states and districts in testing students with special needs.
The central issues appear to be wide variations in NAEP participation rates and in the kinds of accommodations offered both to students with disabilities and to those with limited English proficiency, experts said here this month during a three-day meeting of the National Assessment Governing Board.
“Inclusion has become of greater and greater importance,” said Michael Ward, the state schools superintendent in North Carolina and a member of the national panel, which sets policy for federally administered NAEP.
“This issue ... is one with which we need to deal thoughtfully,” he added, noting the prominent role given to NAEP under the No Child Left Behind Act.
The 2001 federal law requires every state to participate in the NAEP exams for 4th and 8th grade reading and mathematics every other year as an independent measure of states’ progress.
The law, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, calls on states, districts, and schools to show steady growth in the percentage of students overall, as well as different subgroups, that have reached proficiency on state tests, including students with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency.
The governing board will convene two meetings early next year with state and district officials to discuss inclusion of such students in the assessment and the provision of testing accommodations for them. Such accommodations involve making changes to test materials or the procedures for administering tests, with the aim of eliminating barriers to students’ participation.
In addition, the board will be gathering recent research studies and commissioning short technical papers on those matters.
The board intends, by next May, to take action on new policies related to inclusion and accommodations for future NAEP tests.
“There is not a logical and uniform method of including students, providing accommodations, or excluding students” under NAEP testing, Sharif Shakrani, the deputy executive director of the governing board, said during a Nov. 14 session of the board’s committee on reporting and dissemination.
Mr. Shakrani suggested that wide variations in such practices can affect both the accuracy and credibility of achievement data. The variations also make comparisons difficult, whether from state to state or within a state or district over time.
For instance, in Delaware, 11 percent of all students identified to take the NAEP 4th grade reading test in 2003 were excluded, either because of a disability or a limited command of English. That’s more than half of the special-needs students in Delaware identified to take the test. In 1998, only 1 percent of all Delaware students were excluded. (“NAEP Exclusion Rates Increase for Disabled and LEP Children,” July 9, 2003.) Texas joined Delaware in having the highest overall exclusion rate for 4th grade reading, 11 percent. Texas did not test about two out of every five special-needs students identified.
By contrast, California did not test 5 percent of its students, and Alabama excluded just 2 percent. In both these cases, those figures represented less than one in five special-needs students.
One reason for the variation in exclusion rates is that if students are provided with accommodations under state tests that are not permitted under NAEP, those students are excluded from the NAEP sample.
The board is also exploring ways to spur increased participation in NAEP by students with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency.
Meanwhile, eight new members joined the governing board for the Nov. 13-15 meeting.
On Nov. 14, Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced those appointees.
They include: Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the chief executive officer of the Cleveland school district; Carl Cohn, a clinical professor at the University of Southern California’s school of education; Shirley Dickson, the program director for literacy at the Denver-based Education Commission of the States; and John Easton, the executive director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research.
The other new appointees are: Kathi King, a mathematics teacher at Messalonskee High School in Oakland, Maine; David Gordon, the superintendent of the Elk Grove Unified School District in California; Mark Reckase, a professor of measurement and quantitative methods at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich.; and Eileen Weiser, the executive director of the McKinley Foundation in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Secretary Paige reappointed Mr. Ward of North Carolina to a second term on the board, and he named Darvin M. Winnick, a senior research fellow in the college of education at the University of Texas at Austin, to continue as the board’s chairman.