Assessment

NAEP Security Breached By Posting on Web Site

By David J. Hoff & Michelle Galley — October 24, 2001 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Department of Education officials are facing the largest breach of security in the 32-year history of the federal education testing program.

A Minnesota citizens’ group that opposes a federal presence in local schools recently posted on its Web site test questions from a booklet used in the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The group says it was trying to illustrate why it doesn’t want Congress to let the testing program’s scores become the standard against which state tests are compared.

Federal officials say release of excerpts from the reading and writing sections of the long-term trend test will not jeopardize the validity of the portion of NAEP that has been given regularly to U.S. students since 1969.

Even though the hallmark of the long-term trend test is that it gives the same test questions over the span of three decades, officials are confident that they can compensate for the release of a small portion of it, either by eliminating those test questions or by continuing to use them and monitoring whether student scores increase unexpectedly.

Since the long-term trend section of NAEP collects only national results and doesn’t offer rewards for high scores, students and teachers are unlikely to seek the advantage of knowing questions in advance, federal officials say.

“I can’t imagine, even if they’re on the Web, teachers and students will be studying for the long-term trend,” said Roy Truby, the executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, the independent panel that oversees the NAEP program. “It’s such low stakes.”

Still, Mr. Truby and others acknowledge that the release of the items is troublesome because Congress is considering declaring that states’ results on another section of NAEP will be used to help determine whether states can earn rewards for improving student achievement under the education bill now pending on Capitol Hill.

Education Department officials are eyeing ways to strengthen the exam’s security to prevent future breaches that might help a state improve its showing on the national assessment.

The contract to run the $40 million program will be up for renewal this year, and the department will require all bidders to explain how they will prevent lapses such as the current one.

“It will give us the chance to build in additional security measures,” said Lindsey Kozberg, a spokeswoman for Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

Political Divide

The Maple River Education Coalition Political Action Committee posted the test questions on its Web site to demonstrate the group’s opposition to NAEP.

The St. Paul, Minn.-based group obtained the questions from a parent who was allowed to leave a school with the tests when it was given in 1996, said Julie Quist, the vice president of the organization, which claims to have 10,000 members.

Ms. Kozberg said department officials received reports that a test booklet had been removed from a school in 1996, but they cannot trace whether that disappearance was linked to the incident Ms. Quist described. To ensure NAEP performance cannot be traced to specific schools, all references to the schools that participated in the exam are destroyed after the tests are scored, Ms. Kozberg said.

The long-term trend assessment is given to 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds every four years, and is scheduled to be administered next in 2003.

In an interview last week, Ms. Quist said she was not sure exactly how long the questions had been on the site, but guessed that they were posted a couple of months ago.

The group publicized the questions to prove its point that NAEP asks questions the group believe it shouldn’t, said Ms. Quist, whose husband, Allen Quist, was a Republican candidate for Minnesota governor in 1994.

“The NAEP is essentially a way to set curriculum,” she said. “Whatever is assessed is what is taught.”

The group cited four reading-comprehension questions on a story about a Native American man named Black Elk relaying a legend that foretold the destruction of the Lakota tribe. The group objects to those questions because “they are an exercise in diversity training,” its Web site says.

Another NAEP test would have an even greater effect on curricula if the current Senate version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization is passed, Ms. Quist said. That bill would mandate that states administer a NAEP test, the results of which would be tied to financial rewards or penalties for states.

The House version of the bill would give states a choice of which national assessment they administer, but still require that a test be given. For that reason, the group opposes the House version as well, Ms. Quist said. The bill is in the hands of a House-Senate conference committee.

While some conservatives disagree with the Bush administration on the role of NAEP in the education plan, the administration is not going to back down on using the tests, Ms. Kozberg said.

“NAEP is the best test we have to confirm the state results,” she said.

Background Checks

In addition to objecting to the content of the test questions, the Maple River group doesn’t like the way NAEP collects personal information about students, such as parents’ educational attainment, race, and the amount of television the students watch.

But the questions are vital for researchers and the test developers, says one NAEP expert.

Researchers cite NAEP as one of the best monitors for the gaps in test scores between girls and boys and between students of different races, according to Albert Beaton, a professor of education at Boston College and a former official at the Educational Testing Service, the nonprofit test-maker that runs the NAEP program under an Education Department contract.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


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
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
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
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
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
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

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 Spotlight Spotlight on Assessment in 2021
In this Spotlight, review newest assessment scores, see how districts will catch up with their supports for disabled students, plus more.
Assessment 'Nation's Report Card' Has a New Reading Framework, After a Drawn-Out Battle Over Equity
The new framework for the National Assessment of Educational Progress will guide development of the 2026 reading test.
10 min read
results 925693186 02
iStock/Getty
Assessment Opinion Q&A Collections: Assessment
Scores of educators share commentaries on the use of assessments in schools.
5 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Assessment Standardized Tests Could Be in Jeopardy in Wake of Biden Decisions, Experts Say
Has the Biden administration shored up statewide tests this year only to risk undermining long-term public backing for them?
6 min read
Image of a test sheet.
sengchoy/iStock/Getty