Did you know that the National Assessment Of Educational Progress used to test much more than reading and math, much more than academic subjects? Did you know that it was designed originally to assess student cooperation and behavior as well as skills? Did you know that the narrowing of NAEP testing is fairly recent?
Richard Rothstein knows what NAEP was supposed to be and he explained its history to the governing board of NAEP on the occasion of its 25th anniversary.
“Education policy in both the Bush and Obama administrations has suffered from failure to acknowledge a critical principle of performance evaluation in all fields, public and private—if an institution has multiple goals but is held accountable only for some, its agents, acting rationally, will increase attention paid to goals for which they are evaluated, and diminish attention to those, perhaps equally important, for which they are not evaluated.
“When law and policy hold schools accountable primarily for their students’ math and reading test scores, educators inevitably, and rationally, devote less instructional resources to history, the sciences, the arts and music, citizenship, physical and emotional health, social skills, a work ethic and other curricular areas.
“Over the last decade, racial minority and socio-economically disadvantaged students have suffered the most from this curricular narrowing. As those with the lowest math and reading scores, theirs are the teachers and schools who are under the most pressure to devote greater time to test prep, and less to the other subjects of a balanced instructional program.
“One way the federal government promotes this distortion is through its National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), an assessment administered biennially in every state, but only in math and reading. Government officials spend considerable effort publicizing the results. They call NAEP “The Nation’s Report Card,” but no parent would be satisfied with so partial and limited a report card for his or her child.
“Twenty-five years ago, Congress created the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) to create NAEP policy. At NAGB’s conference today celebrating its silver anniversary, Rebecca Jacobsen and I describe (in a presentation drawn from our book with Tamara Wilder, Grading Education. Getting Accountability Right) how NAGB’s disproportionate attention to math and reading was not intended when NAEP was first administered in the early 1970s.
“In those early years, NAEP attempted to assess any goal area for which schools devote, in the words of NAEP’s designers, “15-20% of their time…, [the] less tangible areas, as well as the customary areas, in a fashion the public can grasp and understand.”
“For example, to see whether students were learning to cooperate, NAEP sent trained observers to present a game to 9-year-olds in sampled schools. In teams of four, the 9-year-olds were offered a prize to guess what was hidden in a box. Teams competed to see which, by asking questions, could identify the toy first. Team members had to agree on which questions to ask, and the role of posing questions was rotated. Trained NAEP observers rated the 9-year-olds on their skills in cooperative problem-solving and NAEP then reported on the percentage who were capable of it.
“NAEP assessors also evaluated cooperative skills of 13- and 17-year-olds. Assessors presented groups of eight students with a list of issues about which teenagers typically had strong opinions. Students were asked to reach consensus on the five most important and then write recommendations on how to resolve two of them. The list included, for 13-year-olds, such issues as whether they should have a curfew for going to bed, and for 17-year-olds, eligibility minimums for voting, drinking, and smoking. NAEP observers rated skills such as whether students gave reasons for their points of view and defended a group member’s right to hold a contrary viewpoint.”
For the full presentation, written with Rebecca Jacobsen, read this.