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Unpopular Test Coming

Over the next few weeks, about 9,000 Arizona parents can expect a letter from the principal informing them that their child has been selected to take another standardized test, most likely in science, math or reading.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is a test federal officials require all states to administer every two years. But it also gives parents the option to exempt their student from the program.

The test, given to students throughout the country in public and private schools since 1969, is known as the Nation's Report Card. Federal officials select the schools and students who will participate to ensure results represent a fair profile of all Arizona children.

Over the years, Arizona's results have been disappointing.

This year, fourth-, eighth-, and a smaller sampling of 12th-graders in 300 schools around the state are expected to participate beginning Jan. 24and ending March 4. The students who take the test remain anonymous, and parents, teachers and schools do not get test results. Federal and state officials are prohibited from using test results to rank schools. Only statewide fourth- and eighth-grade results are released, about six months after testing is completed.

Since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, states must participate in the testing or lose federal money. This year, the Bush administration plans to ask Congress for more money to help states give NAEP to more high school seniors and to provide state-level results from high school NAEP.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said he expects parents to allow their students to participate for the same reasons schools participate: "We appealed to their sense of civic duty."

"We all do things for the good of our community, and this is important to Arizona's national standing," Horne said.

That's about the only reason why districts require principals to disrupt their school day, pluck selected students out of classes, find a room and get them tested, said Roger Freeman, Paradise Valley Unified District's testing director.

"Because it's a random sample (of students), it's a real imposition on the day," Freeman said. The tests are not popular and produce no useful feedback that can help teachers shape their lessons or help principals get student data, he said.

Freeman said his district has always cooperated with the NAEP testing: "It's the mentality that, 'We'll take one for the team.'"

Freeman said Arizona students have historically done poorly on the 90-minute test because it's more demanding than other standardized tests and the format includes short written answers as well as the more common multiple choice.

Joe O'Reilly, Mesa Public Schools' testing director, said attitude also has much to do with the low performance.

NAEP is given during the same months as the AIMS and Stanford 9 tests. Teachers and students are more inclined to put their energy into AIMS and Stanford 9 because the scores go to parents, and the state uses the results to publicly rank schools on a scale from "excelling" through "failing." Some districts use AIMS or Stanford 9 scores to determine bonuses for teachers and, by 2006, passing high school AIMS will be required to get a diploma.

O'Reilly also points out that Arizona NAEP scores are not that different from other Sunbelt states where students are mobile and many are still learning English.

— Pat Kossan
Arizona Republic


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