By administering the National Assessment of Educational Progress to a sample of fourth- and eighth-graders every year, President George W. Bush’s testing plan would effect major changes in the “nation’s report card.” The likely consequences of those changes are currently unknown. Here are some of the major issues:
Margin of Error
NAEP uses sampling techniques to show trends over time. The main NAEP is given every two to four years, and long-time tests are given only every 10 years. On an annual NAEP test, there is a margin of error of two or three scale points; thus, achievement gains could be within the margin or error and not a reliable sign of genuine progress. Thus, administering a confirming NAEP test every two years might be more sensible.
NAEP’S Established Role
NAEP currently is voluntary, and securing participation in a test for which individuals–and even individual schools–do not receive scores is not always easy. Forty-one states participated in 2000. Bush’s plan to require annual NAEP math and reading testing in grades 4 and 8 could chill the willingness of states to take part voluntarily in NAEP assessments of writing, science, U.S. history, geography, and other long-term projects scheduled over the next decade.
Conservatives worry that linking test results to federal funds, with NAEP in a confirming role, will lead to a national curriculum. Mark Musick, chairman of NAGB and president of the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board, contends there are enough “checks and balances” in the design and governance of NAEP to prevent that from happening. According to Musick, the 26-member NAGB has “a decidedly state and local orientation,” with antennae finely tuned to “even subtle usurpations of local authority over education.”
The IEP Issue
In recent years, questions have been raised about the comparability of NAEP scores because of differences in how states accommodate disabled students in testing or the extent to which the scores of these students are excluded from statewide results. The policy now, an NAGB official told School Reform News, is to follow what is on a child’s Individual Education Prescription (IEP), which varies widely.
“The rule is there is no rule,” said the official. The question is whether Washington now will have to write one rule in the interest of comparing all states fairly.