The NAEP is still a standardized test that we should rely on


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Chester E. Finn Jr., known as Checker, is 77. His first contact with the national assessment of educational progress, known as our nation’s report card, was in 1969. It was then that he received a visitor from the office who wanted to discuss NAEP, pronounced “neck “.

Finn was 25 years old. He had an office in the Old Executive Office Building in Washington. He had graduated from college four years earlier with a degree in history. He also had a master’s degree in teaching social studies, an indication of how early he acquired his lifelong obsession with schools in America. He’s done enough since to be called our country’s education expert.

In his latest book, “Evaluating the National Report Card: Challenges and Choices for NAEP”, Finn provides a much-needed appreciation of these federally funded and administered exams that periodically sample the progress of approximately 5,000 children per state. He believes the NAEP is the most important testing program in the country, but fears it will be swept away by the ideological winds that rattle school windows these days.

The NAEP is an old but solid anchor in any debate about whether our schools are going to hell. Older people I know often have a pessimistic outlook. They tend to fondly remember their school years and ignore the fact that schools did not teach as many different children, especially those with disabilities, as they do now.

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most recent NAEP summary progress in reading indicates that, over the long term, we are not falling back: “The percentage of fourth-graders with a proficiency level at or above the NAEP in 2019 was higher than a decade ago, as well as in 1998 and 1992. was not significantly different from ten years ago or 1998, but was higher compared to 1992.”

I suspect Finn, a cautious optimist, mentions NAEP data when he encounters feverish pessimists at parties. He first delved into the realities of federal support for education when his graduate mentor, Daniel P. Moynihan, became a key adviser to President Richard M. Nixon and took Finn with him to Washington.

This visitor who told Finn about NAEP was the executive director of the United States Education Commission. He wanted the well-placed kid to know that the project needed more money. Finn went on to earn an Ed.D. in educational policy and become a highly cited sage as Professor of Education and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, Chairman of the Nonprofit Foundation Thomas B. Fordham in Washington and several other missions.

This is his 24th book. It’s full of bureaucratic history and would be a tall order except that Finn is a gifted writer who sheds light on the most interesting things, like the recurring battle over the assessment of NAEP’s long-term trends. Some people don’t like to measure schools today the way we did in 1992. Finn disagrees. Having a legitimate way to compare our schools to the past “is NAEP’s most valuable function and solemn responsibility,” he said.

A look back at old data “will certainly raise concerns as program priorities, education reform priorities and testing technologies change over time,” he said. “How informative are assessment results in, say, 2025 based on what was being taught in American schools at the turn of the century? … On the other hand, what is the value of 2025 results on a measure like NAEP if they cannot be compared to previous results? Is achievement improving or not, and for which children? »

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He quotes Education Week reporter Stephen Sawchuk as pointing out that “the technical properties of the exam make it difficult to use NAEP data to prove cause-and-effect claims about specific policies or educational interventions.” , even though leading experts use the results this way all the time. . It is not uncommon to see rabid debaters throwing NAEP data at each other.

Not everyone likes government officials pointing out achievement gaps between different ethnicities, Finn said, “at least not unless it’s accompanied by causal explanations and – more importantly – remedies for the situation. “. The folks at NAEP consider this beyond their instructions. NAEP results can shed light on the knowledge and skills in certain subjects that groups of students might have, Finn said, but “they are not good for assessing creativity, motivation, courage, research prowess or the ability to work with others.

Worse still, lawmakers and regulators continue to gamble with vital data. The correlation between academic achievement and socioeconomic status, as measured by the percentage of students eligible for lunch subsidies, has been a favorite topic for NAEP consumers like me. Finn informs us that “beginning in 2010…and rolled out nationwide in 2015, the ‘community eligibility’ feature allows very poor schools to provide free meals to everything their students, regardless of their individual poverty status.

There are NAEP exams in reading, math, science, writing, arts, and civics.

Politicians and other interest groups will always distort the results. But as we try to understand our schools’ progress, there’s no better measure than that obscure test project Finn first heard 53 years ago.

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