The Lion of the Senate, and NAEP

By Sean Cavanagh — August 26, 2009 1 min read
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Ted Kennedy’s imprint can be found on countless aspects of federal education policy, as has been widely discussed today. Students of recent congressional history will also remember that he played a role in shaping the design of what is probably the country’s premier test of student learning, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.

In the late 1980s, Kennedy was a player in a bipartisan agreement to expand the influential test to include state-by-state results, as opposed to simply churning out national scores. Today, those state results receive tons of scrutiny. They allow the public and policymakers to weigh the reading and math progress of students in their home states against others around the country, on a comparable scale.

Kennedy also was part of a coalition of lawmakers who helped create an independent panel, the National Assessment Governing Board, to set policy for NAEP. The idea was to set up an oversight body that was free of partisan politics to guide the exam. Federal lawmakers created the governing board in 1988. Today, the board meets at regular public meetings to review and modify test content and policies, and all politics are supposed to get checked at the door.

Some of the changes made to NAEP had been recommended by a blue-ribbon panel, formed in 1986 by then-Education Secretary Bill Bennett. The panel’s members included Linda Darling-Hammond, Michael Kirst, and somebody named Hillary Rodham Clinton. I culled a couple of old EdWeek stories, from 1987 and 1988, describing the work of Kennedy and Congress in expanding NAEP, which is known as “the nation’s report card.” Also see this history on the creation of the governing board (found near the bottom of the linked page).

If you were working on or around the Hill back then, feel free to offer you own recollections of how a revamped NAEP came to be.

Photo by Chitose Suzuki/AP-File.

UPDATE: There were many days when Kennedy and the folks in Ronald Reagan’s education department couldn’t find common legislative ground, recalls Fordham’s Chester E. Finn, who served under the Republican president. But Finn also praises Kennedy’s work in reshaping NAEP, as one piece of his “enormous legacy.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.