NAEP tries clarifying test results

NAEP tries clarifying test results

(District of Columbia) The oversight board of K-12 education’s most prominent performance measure adopted new achievement levels for gauging how well schools are doing nationally as well as on the state level.

The National Assessment of Education Progress, better known as the Nation’s Report Card, will use three levels of achievement—basic, proficient and advanced. Under new policy guidance approved last week by the test’s governing board, the test scores will also be accompanied by better descriptions intended to explain their meaning more fully.

“We are affirming our commitment to give more information about the achievement levels and to review them according to the most respected professional standards,” said Ken Wagner, a board member and a commissioner for the Rhode Island Department of Education. “We want NAEP results to be reported accurately and responsibly. We made these changes as a way to support this goal.”

Begun in the 1970s, the national assessment has measured reading and math skills of students in fourth and eighth grade throughout the country every two years. The cut scores used to delineate performance levels are established by the National Assessment Governing Board, a nonpartisan panel created by Congress in 1988 that must include two governors from different political parties among its 26 members.

Scores released in April, showed fourth and eighth graders made little or no gain since the prior administration of the test in 2015. Even more troubling, however, was the growing gap between high performers—who made gains—and the lowest-scoring students—who did worse than two years before.

Although the board made no changes to the actual scores needed to gain identification with the proficient or advanced pool, they added some terminology to better explain the categories:

  • NAEP Basic - This level denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for performance at the NAEP Proficient level.
  • NAEP Proficient - This level represents solid academic performance for each NAEP assessment. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real world situations, and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter.
  • NAEP Advanced - This level signifies superior performance beyond NAEP Proficient.

Part of the reason for the change, officials have said, is to help teachers, parents and policy-makers better understand test results, which have sometimes been misunderstood and then dismissed. Other analysis suggests the board is reacting to long-time criticism that the test standards are too high.

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