Every two years, parents of children in grades 4, 8 and 12 are informed that their children will participate in the standardized test known as NAEP. This stands for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and is also known as The Nation’s Report Card. The assessment is created and given through the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the U.S. Department of Education.
NAEP is not a traditional standardized test; it was what is referred to as a “no-stakes assessment” and, in fact, is given anonymously. Students’ individual performance does not bear on their academic record in any way. After the assessment is given, the students name is removed from the test so that it is scored anonymously. Rather than getting a grade, students receive a certificate of achievement for taking the test, and in some cases, they also receive 1.5 hours of community service.
The reason for this is because by taking the assessment, students are really providing a valuable community service. The 1.5 hours in which testing occur accounts for a large amount of the education statistics that the Department of Education gathers. The tests are given in Reading, Writing, Math, Science and occasionally Civics or Economics (for students in grade 12) and are used to measure what students know and are able to do.
The measurement of what students know is used to ensure that curriculum matches and raises ability level for American students. Likewise, what students are able to do is used to drive the skills-based expectations for the curriculum. The test shows what students have actually mastered during the elementary, middle or high school years and provides a snapshot of how the schools are doing at creating students who are achieving academically. Students who test with accommodations are given their normal supports as the goal is to include all students who can be tested in the results. Depending on each state’s testing policies, the NAEP tests are also offered in a bilingual format.
The assessment also gathers a significant amount of demographic data, which is used to understand how different student populations are doing in different subjects. Although the test is ultimately anonymous – and no school personnel ever see inside student test booklets – when the test is first coordinated, student data – socioeconomic and demographic – is collected. From race, income, gender, learning disabilities, first language status, and even date of birth, statistics are created to show how girls are doing compared to boys in subjects, or how a 6 month age between students difference can have an academic impact, or how students receiving special education services are doing in meeting curricular standards.
It is a tremendous amount of data, both sociological and educational, which is gathered. Specific studies are often done with NAEP testing to further analyze the ‘State of American Education,’ such as the National Indian Education Study or the Trial Urban District Assessment. The statistics are used to determine funding and is the primary information source by which Congress makes decisions. And, that is why students deserve community service hours or recognition for their participation.
Participation is voluntary. Students or their parents have the absolute right to opt out of this test. Schools do not have that option for reasons of funding; the schools have to be willing to participate in order to receive their federal funding. However, schools provide letters to parents providing all necessary information as to when and where the test will occur, and who to inform if the child will not participate.
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