Test-Governing Panel Contemplates Halting Trend-Data Collection

By David J. Hoff — March 17, 1999 3 min read
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The board that oversees the “nation’s report card” is contemplating whether to stop collecting data that show trends going back 30 years.

Over the next year, the National Assessment Governing Board will evaluate its commitment to versions of the National Assessment of Educational Progress that date back almost three decades and to a mathematics exam that it started giving in 1990.

By halting the tests begun in 1970, the board could run state-by-state tests more often than it now does, and by reworking the math test, the board would ensure that its content reflects the current ideas in mathematics education.

But the trade-off for either change would be the loss of the trend analysis that educational researchers and policymakers, school officials, and the public use to gauge how well the nation’s students have been achieving over time, board members said at their meeting here March 4-6.

Mark D. Musick

“If we change that framework in a potentially significant way, then we run the risk of destroying our trend lines,” said Mark D. Musick, the chairman of the governing board and the president of the Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta.

By doing so, the board would be jeopardizing research that compares student achievement “then and now,” added board member Diane Ravitch, a prominent educational historian and researcher at New York University.

‘Keep Us Honest’

Analysts rely on the federally sponsored NAEP exams--which test a sampling of students in key subjects--because other tests, such as the SAT, don’t have a consistent demographic makeup over the course of several years, as the national assessment does, Ms. Ravitch said.

Diane Ravitch

Other board members, including Wilmer S. Cody, Kentucky’s education commissioner, and Edward H. Haertel, a professor of education at Stanford University in California, agreed with Ms. Ravitch, who was the assistant secretary of education in charge of NAEP during the Bush administration.

The long-term trend data “keep us honest,” Mr. Haertel said.

But other board members question whether tests written almost three decades ago accurately reflect the changes in subjects such as science. “Science has changed quite a bit,” said Edward Donley, a former chairman of Air Products & Chemicals Inc. in Allentown, Pa.

In 1970, NAEP first collected long-term data in science. In the early 1970s, mathematics and reading tests were begun, and writing was added in the 1980s. Data on the arts, civics, and other subjects listed in the national education goals are based on frameworks developed since 1990.

The governing board is re-evaluating its commitment to the long-term trend assessment as it plans the testing schedule for the second half of the next decade, Mr. Musick said. Until 2003, the schedule is more or less fixed, he said.

The board is administering the long-term trend tests this spring and is scheduled to do so again in 2003 and 2007.

Congress, meanwhile, will be evaluating the testing program within the next year, and could weigh in on the future of the long-term assessment.

Changes to Math Content?

While Congress decides the fate of the original form of NAEP, the governing board will be reconsidering the content of the mathematics exam it started giving in 1990. The review is a routine checkup to ensure that the test reflects what’s being taught in the nation’s classrooms, board officials say.

Current frameworks, which define the content of test questions, were written when educators widely accepted the approaches suggested by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Now, those standards are under attack by critics who contend they lack an emphasis on such traditional practices as memorization of multiplication tables.

The NCTM issued a draft of proposed changes to its standards last fall and plans to adopt changes next year. (“Math Council Again Mulling Its Standards,” Nov. 4, 1999.)

“Was the math framework overly influenced by NCTM or just about right?” Mr. Musick asked. “If the framework changes,” he continued, “what happens with the trend lines” for exams given in 1990, 1992, and 1996?

The current frameworks will be used again next year. Any changes in content would be incorporated into exams slated for 2004.

Board members are aware of the importance of those state-by-state trends, Mr. Musick said. The day before their meeting, the Department of Education released states’ 1998 reading scores, which generated front-page headlines in major newspapers the next day.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 17, 1999 edition of Education Week as Test-Governing Panel Contemplates Halting Trend-Data Collection


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