For the first time ever, the federal government plans to begin testing groups of students from around the country to gauge their understanding of economics.
“We want to start making sure that students know the basics of the American economic system and the way it relates to the rest of the world,” said Mark D. Musick, the chairman of the governing board that oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The congressionally mandated assessment, overseen by the National Center for Education Statistics, tests samples of students in a variety of academic subjects.
NAEP recently awarded a $971,000 contract to the American Institutes for Research, a private non-profit organization in Washington, to prepare the framework for the economics assessment. The New York City-based National Council on Economic Education, which promotes study of the subject in schools, and the Council of Chief State School Officers, based in Washington, will work with AIR to develop the assessment.
Those organizations will consult with a group of “consensus committees” made up of college professors, civic leaders, business executives, curriculum designers, high school economics teachers, parents, and the general public on what should be covered in the tests and how much weight should be given to different elements of economics.
NAEP officials said the economics assessment, which is scheduled to be administered in 2005, will measure for the first time how well students grasp the basic principals of economics, including topics such as the role of interest rates in a free-market economy, theories of supply and demand, and the complex forces that lead to inflation and recession.
Though economics has not traditionally been part of the core curriculum in most schools, a growing number of schools are offering the subject, according to Robert Duvall, the president of the National Council on Economic Education. Mr. Duvall pointed out that 48 states and the District of Columbia have adopted standards for the teaching of economics.
“Almost all of the states now recognize economics as one of the things that ought to be taught,” Mr. Duvall said. “This assessment will tell us how well it is being taught and in what depth.”
With the new test focusing more attention on the subject, Mr. Duvall predicts that many schools not offering economics now will probably offer it soon enough.
“I think this will intensify the push on the part of legislators, parents, educators, business leaders, and employers to continue to improve on the breadth and depth of economic education in this country,” he said.
Many Subjects Tested
In recent years, the periodic national assessment of 12th graders has been given to about 10,000 students in 400 schools. Performance levels are broken into three categories: basic, proficient, and advanced.
NAEP tests, which were established in 1969, have been administered periodically in more than a dozen subjects, including reading, writing, mathematics, science, U.S. and world history, and the arts. Reading and writing tests are given nationally and on the state level, with states participating voluntarily, on a four-year cycle. Most states choose to participate.
Last year, the National Assessment Governing Board decided to add a foreign-language assessment for the first time. That test, which will measure students’ knowledge of Spanish, is scheduled for 2003.
The economics test will be given to 12th graders in public and private schools the same year the NAEP assessment in world history and civics is scheduled to be administered.
NAEP officials delayed the use of the civics test for two years because of funding difficulties. (“NAGB Delays Civics Test as Possible Other Testing Strains Budget,” July 11, 2001.)