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Education Reporter

Researchers Call for NAEP to Measure Nonacademic Goals
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The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a liberal think tank, released a report calling for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to go beyond academics to measure other goals EPI believes schools should embrace.

The report, "Reassessing the Achievement Gap: Fully Measuring What Students Should be Taught in School," argues that basic academic skills make up only one of eight goals appropriate for American public schools. The other seven are: critical thinking and problem solving, social skills and work ethic, readiness for citizenship and community responsibility, foundation for lifelong physical health, foundation for lifelong emotional health, appreciation of the arts and literature, and preparation for skilled work.

The EPI report claims there is an achievement gap between black and white students in each of these eight areas. In order to close the gap, EPI states that the government must assess students across all of these categories rather than assessing only students' academic skills. Federal and state governments must then create public policies that will address disparities in performance among different racial and economic groups.

"These goals have historically been central to Americans' conception of education and youth development and remain so today," claims EPI. EPI bases many of its recommendations on the original intent of the NAEP, which did aim to measure other indicators as well as academic achievement. The report advocates a return to data-collection practices the NAEP testing program used in the 1970s, and a major expansion of the scale and scope of the test.

Because the current NAEP gives no data on an important segment of the population of 17-year-olds — those who have already dropped out of high school — EPI recommends that NAEP survey questions be administered to teenagers by household rather than in schools.

EPI also wants the NAEP to survey young adults ages 20 to 25 across all demographic groups, because

"data on whether young people have achieved the outcomes sought by schools and other institutions of youth development are often not meaningful until several years after young people have left school. For example, if a goal of civics education is to prepare and motivate young people to vote, we cannot know whether this goal has been achieved until we determine whether they actually register and vote in the years immediately after their end of schooling. If schooling aims to develop an appreciation of literature and the arts, we cannot know whether this goal has been achieved until we determine whether young people read for pleasure or are engaged in the arts after schooling has ended. Likewise, the effect of physical education programs cannot be observed with accuracy until we know whether young adults exercise regularly."

The original design for the NAEP did call for testing of young adults, for similar reasons to those the EPI report gives. The NAEP sampled young adults between the ages of 25 and 35 until the 1970s.

Broadening the reach and scope of the NAEP doesn't sound wise to critics who already think the test overreaches its proper bounds. "The upshot here is that pupils are being tested on what they believe (cognitive) as opposed to what they know (academics), via psychological "gotcha" questions deftly interspersed throughout tests-cum-surveys like NAEP," warns author Beverly Eakman, an expert on psychological testing and psychiatric drugs. "We are creating a psycho-behavioral minefield for students later on when they try to apply to a college or get a job, unless their opinions mesh with whatever happens to be the prevailing wisdom."

According to Eakman, the Economic Policy Institute is not alone in its eagerness to test nonacademic indicators through the NAEP. "The No Child Left Behind Act, as well as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, remain mired in non-academic pursuits, far removed from proficiency or diagnostics in the basics," she says. "The goal is psychological profiling, not 'cognitive testing' in the classical sense of that term. I say 'classical' because the definition of cognitive was expanded in 1986 to include 'belief system' as well as the traditional 'intellectual component,' thereby allowing the assessment of attitudes and opinions as part of 'cognitive testing.' The purpose of this expanded definition for 'cognitive' reflects a decision to include 'emotional' content as inherent in every piece of knowledge."

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