September 24, 2001

NAEP vs. an Independent Alternative Test

As the Education Conference Committee prepares to reconcile H.R. 1 and S. 1, they will determine many issues critical to meaningful reform, including whether or not to expand the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) by requiring all states to take this test.

The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is opposed to the use of NAEP as an oversight test that will determine federal dollar rewards for states showing acceptable progress or sanctions for inadequate performance. Instead, HSLDA urges each conference committee member to keep educational decisions local-allowing states to choose an independent alternative test (IAT) in lieu of NAEP. States should not be required to use NAEP.

Requiring states to administer NAEP would irreparably damage America's education reform effort. Government-designed tests such as this one have dangerous potential for misuse. If Congress requires states to use one prescribed test, federal authorities will hold in their hands a powerful tool for possible social engineering. Testing determines what will be taught.

Congress must give states the crucial option of choosing an independent alternative test. In his October 5, 1999, position paper "Education: A Culture of Achievement," President Bush has already indicated his support for allowing states to administer an alternative test.

The following points demonstrate the dangers of NAEP and the importance of giving states the option of using an independent alternative test.

  • Mandating NAEP would create a national test - leading to a national curriculum.
    The Bush administration has proposed a plan that would reward or sanction states by giving or withholding federal funds based upon the academic progress of their students on their individual state's standardized tests. These tests would then be verified by a sampling of NAEP.

    However, under S. 1 language, NAEP would ultimately determine a state's reward or sanction. In order to improve students' test scores, states would teach to NAEP, resulting in a national curriculum by default. What is tested will be taught.

  • NAEP would pressure teachers to teach to the test.
    In the drive to get more federal funds, as states would pressure schools to improve test scores, schools would pressure teachers to teach to the test, thus weakening local control of education by parents and communities.

  • The National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) would by default determine public school curriculum.
    After the framework development for each NAEP test, the Educational Testing Service from the Department of Education oversees a process of test question development by a variety of teachers, subject matter specialists, and testing specialists. Since NAGB has the final authority over the selection of NAEP questions, the board would, under S.1, in effect set the standards that states would teach to in preparation for the test. The practical result would be a uniform curriculum across the states.

  • NAEP tests are "conditioned" to adjust student scores.
    Independent tests are not "conditioned," but the NAEP test is. Conditioning involves adjusting the student's test score based upon demographic variables such as gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Under NAEP, students would not be judged simply based upon their individual performance as a student-their score would be altered based upon unchangeable factors (i.e. gender, race, and ethnicity).

  • NAEP costs 20 times more than an independent alternative test.
    Administering NAEP would cost around $100 per student, while other tests, such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (an independent alternative test) may range anywhere from $6-14 per student for a full exam. Proponents of NAEP argue that NAEP would cost less because it is only sampled and IATs cannot be sampled but must be given to all students. This assumption is inaccurate. IATs can be used to sample and would save taxpayers approximately $90 per test administered.

  • NAEP exams require NAGB-appointed administrators.
    Under NAEP, NAGB would hire test administrators. Approximately 2,000 approved test administrators would be needed to cover the vast number of students taking the exam. But IATs can be administered under the ordinary school operating conditions-with a school official or regular classroom teacher administering the exam.

  • NAEP requires intrusive background questionnaires. IATs do not.
    NAEP collects information from students and teachers about hundreds of contextual background variables. Previously used IATs do not require any such information. Such background questionnaires can easily become an invasion of privacy and often ask irrelevant questions.

  • NAEP test is still in development and results are unreliable. IATs are proven, valid and dependable.
    NAEP performance results have proven to be unpredictable. Even NAGB admits that NAEP is still a work in progress and parts of the exam are going to change. IATs have been used for years and have been proven to be both valid and reliable.

  • NAEP results received approximately 9-12 months later than IAT results.
    NAEP requires approximately one year between administration and receipt of scores. The goal for NAEP is to provide a summary report within six months. In contrast, IAT results depend on the user's needs, the type of test, and the test items. In most cases, IAT results are returned within three weeks to three months after the tests were administered.

  • NAGB and NCES would determine when NAEP would be administered.
    However, IATs could be administered at any time during the year at state discretion. For instance, scheduling administration of an IAT at the same time as the state's own achievement test could significantly reduce administrative burdens.