A commission comprised of representatives from the fields of education, policy, business, and the military, which was formed by the board that oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, has recommended that twelfth-grade tests in reading and mathematics become mandatory for selected students, with the goal of providing solid results at both the national and state levels.
NAEP is the only nationally representative and continuing assessment of what American students know and can do in various academic subjects. It is administered to randomly selected students in grades four and eight, and is voluntary among randomly selected twelfth-grade students. Since participation in the twelfth-grade tests is optional, only about half of the students who were selected to take them in 2002 actually did so. Such low participation rates make it impossible to depend on the results at the state level, and even the national scores’ validity have been questioned by some.
“Twelfth-grade NAEP has the potential to supply crucial information about student achievement that America needs and that is unavailable from any other source, but NAEP is not now fulfilling that potential,” argues the commission’s report, 12th Grade Student Achievement in America: A New Vision for NAEP. “America needs to know how well prepared its high school seniors are to become productive citizens and to compete in a global economy-how well they can read, write, and compute, and what they know about science, history, civics, and other important disciplines. Only the National Assessment of Educational Progress can provide this information-for the nation and for states-and it is necessary for our nation’s continued well-being that it be provided.”
The commission recognized that it will be challenging to get high school seniors in their last weeks of school to take the tests seriously. Dramatically new approaches for increasing school and student participation in NAEP at the high school level will be required. The report notes that the combined school and student participation rates at the twelfth-grade level fell from 65 percent in 1998 to 55 percent in 2002. To increase participation, the report warns that congressional approval and additional appropriations will be needed. However, it believes that in the end the “modest investment needed would be far out-weighed by the enormous benefits.”
One of those benefits, the commission believes, would be to provide information on the readiness of twelfth graders for college, employment, and the military-although this would require changes to the tests themselves.
The idea that NAEP tests, even in a revised form, could really gauge how well prepared students are for college or employment is not being embraced by all. Some researchers and policymakers believe that the road to redesigning the twelfth-grade NAEP test would be paved with difficulties. “We’ve really never set a national performance standard for college readiness,” Michael W. Kirst, a professor of education at Stanford University, told Education Week. He stressed that the higher-education community would be reluctant to accept an extension of K-12 accountability to colleges.
The eighteen members of the commission were appointed by Darvin Winick, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board. The commission met five times between March 2003 and early 2004, heard expert testimony from twenty-four witnesses, commissioned and reviewed six white papers and two research studies, and received input from the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Association of State Boards of Education. The National Assessment Governing Board is expected to vote on the commission’s recommendations this summer, following an extensive review process that will include public hearings.
Report: 12th Grade Student Achievement in America: A New Vision for NAEP is available athttp://www.nagb.org/release/12_gr_commission_rpt.pdf.
The Education Week article is available at http://www.edweek.com/ew/ewstory.cfm?slug=26NAEP.h23.