Assessment

NAEP Board Sets Rules For Background Questions

By Debra Viadero — September 03, 2003 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The board that sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress has approved new guidelines aimed at reducing and better focusing the nonacademic questions that students and educators are asked to answer as part of the federally sponsored exams.

Besides testing what students know in specific subjects, such as reading and mathematics, the NAEP tests have long included some “noncognitive” or background questions on everything from the amount of time students spend on homework to the kinds of reading materials they use in class.

Members of the National Assessment Governing Board, the independent body that oversees the testing program, were concerned that the additional questions made the exams too cumbersome and yielded results that could be misinterpreted.

Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the director of the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, shared some of the concerns. He opted on recent printed copies of NAEP reports to drop analyses of the data yielded by the background questions. (“‘Report Card’ Lacking Usual Background Data,” July 9, 2003.)

By law, the exams are required to gather information on race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, disability, and English-language proficiency for the students participating in the assessment. Those questions will continue to be part of future exams, according to the final guidelines approved by the governing board at its Aug. 1 meeting here.

The new guidelines allow for a trimmer set of questions on socioeconomic status, however, with some appearing in every assessment and some popping up periodically or accompanying only limited samples of tests.

Likewise, the exams could also include questions on “contextual variables,” such as student mobility, school safety issues, or discipline, but only if those topics have been shown through other research to have an impact on academic achievement.

The same holds true for subject-specific background questions. Queries in that category might probe relevant course content, teacher preparation, or other factors related to student achievement.

Experts’ Advice

In all, the framework approved last month says, background questions should not take up more than 10 minutes of students’ time, 20 minutes for teachers, and 30 minutes for school administrators. To keep within those limits, the guidelines encourage the Education Department to try to get some of the same information from other sources, such as school transcripts and other federal surveys.

In addition, since 4th grade test-takers can’t be counted on to provide reliable information on their parents’ income levels, the framework encourages federal test designers to try developing a wider index of proxy variables that might give a more accurate reading of a family’s socioeconomic status than the ones that are currently used.

“We think if we do a good job of reforming the NAEP, it will continue to be an important source of data for the research community,” said John H. Stevens, the executive director of the Texas Business and Education Coalition and the NAGB member who spearheaded the revision of the background questions.

While generally supportive of the board’s new direction on background questions, some researchers and national education groups expressed disappointment that the board had dropped earlier plans to set up an advisory board to help select appropriate questions.

“I don’t know where the capacity is to do the good work that the board wants to do,” Gerald E. Sroufe, the director of government relations for the Washington-based American Educational Research Association, told a board committee last month. “You need people really steeped in theory and research to suggest where the field is.”

And, while the guidelines say that analyses of the background data should be included in federal NAEP reports, they don’t require it.

When the data are presented, the framework says, the Education Department should refrain from suggesting any cause-and-effect relationships between the background factors and any variations in student achievement. Drawn from cross- sectional samples of students, the best such findings can do is suggest possible links for others to probe further, the guidelines note.

Related Tags:

Events

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
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education
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
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean
Curriculum Webinar Computer Science Education Movement Gathers Momentum. How Should Schools React?
Discover how schools can expand opportunities for students to study computer science education.

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

Assessment Latest Round of Federal Grants Aims to Make States' Assessments More Equitable, Precise
The U.S. Department of Education awarded over $29 million in competitive grants to 10 state education agencies.
2 min read
Assessment review data 599911460
vladwei/iStock/Getty<br/>
Assessment Opinion Are There Better Ways Than Standardized Tests to Assess Students? Educators Think So
Student portfolios and school community surveys are but two of the many alternatives to standardized tests.
3 min read
Illustration of students in virus environment facing wave of test sheets.
Collage by Vanessa Solis/Education Week (Images: iStock/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty)
Assessment Letter to the Editor We Need NAEP
The president and CEO of Knowledge Alliance responds to a recent opinion essay's criticism of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
iStock/Getty
Assessment Letter to the Editor 2022 Assessment ‘Most Important’ Ever
The executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board responds to criticism of NAEP in this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
iStock/Getty