Assessment

NAEP Governing Board Gives Nod to More Complex 12th Grade Math

By Sean Cavanagh — August 29, 2006 3 min read
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The board that sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress has revised the blueprint for the 12th grade math version of the exam in an attempt to make the test better reflect the skills that students need for college and highly skilled jobs.

The changes, approved this month and set to be in place for the 2009 test, are expected to make the math NAEP more challenging in some areas, with more complex algebraic concepts, trigonometry, and a stronger emphasis on mathematical reasoning and problem-solving, officials associated with the board say. Those revisions could also shape individual states’ math standards, which are often influenced by the content of the NAEP frameworks.

The National Assessment Governing Board unanimously agreed to make the changes at its quarterly meeting here Aug. 4.

Sharif M. Shakrani

“What we’re doing here is not unique to NAEP. It is what society is demanding,” said Sharif M. Shakrani, a professor of psychometric testing at Michigan State University in East Lansing, who consulted on changes to the framework. “We need to judge what students know and where they are weak.”

The 12th grade math test is given to a random sample of public and private school students around the country. It was most recently given to about 9,000 students in 2005. States are required to participate in NAEP in reading and math at the 4th and 8th grade levels; those tests provide the basis for state-by-state comparisons of student scores. No such requirement currently is in place for the 12th grade, though President Bush has proposed one.

Trend Line to Be Broken

The 12th grade NAEP was last revised for the exam given last year. The changes were significant enough to force a break in the “trend line,” or the capability for comparing results from that test with those on previous exams. The revisions on the 2009 exam will break the trend line again.

To assuage concerns about the loss of the trend line, Mary Crovo, the deputy executive director of the governing board, said it was possible that federal officials would be able to produce a “bridge study” allowing for some kind of comparison between the 2009 results and earlier scores.

In revising the 12th grade test, the governing board contracted in September 2004 with Achieve, a Washington-based policy organization founded by state governors and U.S. business leaders to push for higher state academic standards. The board used Achieve’s “American Diploma Project Benchmarks,” a document that examines skills needed for college and the workplace, as a resource.

Some mathematicians complained that the revised 12th grade document is still not rigorous enough, Ms. Crovo said.

In May, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington research and policy organization that evaluates state academic standards, concluded that the math-content descriptions in a draft of the new framework were too vague in some sections and too easy for high school seniors in others. After looking at the latest version, Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president of Fordham and a former U.S. Department of Education official under President Bush, said in an e-mail that it made only “minor improvements” to a “fundamentally flawed” document.

State Concerns

But Ms. Crovo noted that the governing board had also weighed the concerns of state education officials, who are trying to raise math standards in their schools, that the revised framework made too great a jump in difficulty. “How are our students going to fare [on NAEP] when we’re not quite there yet?” Ms. Crovo said she had heard from state officials.

The 12th grade math NAEP currently includes mostly Algebra 1, a course many students take in 8th or 9th grade, Mr. Shakrani said. But the new version will include more Algebra 2—a key measure, some say, of whether students are ready for college-level math. More nonlinear functions and in-depth problem-solving will also be included, he said.

“It will be tougher,” said governing board member Sheila Ford, after voting in favor of the changes. She believes the framework will lead states to require more rigorous math curricula and standards. “Hopefully, it will move the conversation,” Ms. Ford added.

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A version of this article appeared in the August 30, 2006 edition of Education Week as NAEP Governing Board Gives Nod To More Complex 12th Grade Math

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