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NAEP Results Are Often Politicized. Could Rescheduling It Help?

By Evie Blad — May 22, 2023 3 min read
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The panel that oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress wants to postpone 2026’s math and reading tests to 2027, citing concerns that releasing results shortly before the November elections could fuel unhealthy politicization of the scores.

The National Assessment Governing Board passed a resolution on May 19 that will require approval from Congress.

Testing officials face a tough balancing act between releasing the results of the “nation’s report card” as quickly as possible, and tamping down on the frequently spurious use of the scores by politicians and advocacy groups to advance their own narratives.

NAEP is administered every two years, providing key data that allows state and federal officials to monitor student progress. The proposed scheduling shift would restore a cadence in which the assessment was administered in odd years—out-of-sync with presidential and midterm election cycles.

That schedule was disrupted after officials delayed the 2021 administration for a year during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, federal officials released scores for the 2022 4th- and 8th-grade reading and math assessments in October, weeks before hotly contested state and federal elections.

The resolution to reset the assessment schedule will help NAEP maintain its position “as a trusted, independent, and nonpartisan measure of student progress nationwide,” said Beverly Perdue, the NAGB chair and former North Carolina governor in a statement.

The change would also mean an extra year without the testing data at a time when the nation’s schools are scrambling to help students regain academic progress.

“This is a time where we want to understand how we are recovering from the pandemic,” said Andrew Ho, a Harvard University education professor and former member of the Governing Board. “You do wonder whether there’s some way to get some information sooner.”

The board formed an ad hoc committee to examine the testing schedule in November, after leaders heard pushback from both political parties about releasing scores so close to the midterms last year.

Members discussed conducting the test in both 2026 and 2027 to restore the schedule, but doing so would require additional time and funding. They also discussed changing the test timing so that results would be ready after the election, but doing so would be logistically difficult for schools, members said, according to the minutes.

The tests are next scheduled to be administered in 2024, the same year as a presidential election. But officials plan to pilot the use of NAEP-provided Chromebooks in test administration that year, and an analysis of those findings will delay results until after election day, NAGB said in a news release.

Education issues are increasingly part of campaigning

The proposed shift comes as educational issues—including discussion of race, LGBTQ+ rights, and academic recovery—play an increasingly prominent role in political messaging.

Some education policy watchers, including Michael Petrilli, president of the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute, speculated the 2022 scores would amount to an “October surprise,” a term that describes news events that throw last-minute curveballs at political campaigns.

Those results showed historic declines in math and reading scores, setting off rounds of finger-pointing among educators, pundits, and policymakers.

But assessment experts have long warned against “misNAEPery,” or drawing strong cause-and-effect conclusions from the test scores without adequate evidence to support them, Ho said.

“There’s a general rule in educational testing: The more political pressure there is on test scores, the more vulnerable those test scores are to distortion,” he said.

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