Discussion: (0 comments)
There are no comments available.
A public policy blog from AEI
Editor’s note: The next president is in for a rough welcome to the Oval Office given the list of immediate crises and slow-burning policy challenges, both foreign and domestic. What should Washington do? Why should the average American care? We’ve set out to clearly define US strategic interests and provide actionable policy solutions to help the new administration build a 2017 agenda that strengthens American leadership abroad while bolstering prosperity at home.
What to Do: Policy Recommendations for 2017 is an ongoing project from AEI. Click here for access to the complete series, which addresses a wide range of issues from rebuilding America’s military to higher education reform to helping people find work.
Last week, Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution wrote an article called “The strange case of the disappearing NAEP,” in which he questions the wisdom of delaying the administration of the nation’s longest comparable measure of student performance, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) long term trend (LTT) assessment. The LTT is designed for comparability: it “measure[s] students’ educational progress over a long period of time” and has been given to 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds since 1969.
The LTT differs in this way from the more well-known main NAEP assessment, which is used “to measure students’ knowledge and skills based on the most current curricula and standards” in 4th, 8th and 12th grades. The main NAEP is updated intermittently, making the results incomparable over time. The National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), which oversees and sets policy for NAEP, has twice postponed the LTT due to budgetary constraints, leaving a 12-year gap between administrations. Since December’s postponement, those budget constraints have themselves disappeared, yet there has been no movement to resurrect the LTT.
The figure above displays NAEP appropriations from 2010 through 2015. From 2010 to 2012, appropriations were stable at around $130 million annually. In August 2015, NAGB released a statement that “timely and significant increases of funds are necessary” to avoid cuts in the scope of its programs. Then, in November 2015, NAGB announced the threatened cuts to the 2020 LTT and several grade 12 assessments, due to “budget constraints and priorities for the NAEP program.”
Then NAEP’s budget immediately swelled. Less than a month after postponing the LTT, President Obama signed the 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which provided an additional $20 million for NAEP assessments, a 16% increase. That increase was retained this month in the Continuing Appropriations Act, meaning that the budget constraint that postponed the LTT no longer exists.
Since budget constraints led to LTT’s postponement, it would make sense for the new funding to be used to resurrect it. But that did not happen. Instead, in its March meeting, NAGB’s executive committee used the new funds for other priorities: “expand[ing] the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) program,” and “implement[ing] digital-based assessments (DBA).”
The timeline of decisions and funding changes makes it clear that the decision to postpone the LTT is not grounded in budget constraints; it is based on NAGB’s priorities. The tradeoff lies between pursuing the original impetus for NAEP, which included conducting “a national assessment, State assessments, and a long-term trend assessment in reading and mathematics,”[i] and adopting NAGB’s more novel priorities.
The timeline of decisions and funding changes makes it clear that the decision to postpone the LTT is not grounded in budget constraints; it is based on NAGB’s priorities.
As Loveless points out, and the Board minutes confirm, NAGB is pursuing other programs— moving to digitally based assessments (DBA), oversampling specific city districts biennially in its Trial Urban District Assessments (TUDA), and the new Technology and Engineering Literacy assessments—at the cost of postponing LTT. Loveless takes a dim view of those tradeoffs, arguing that novelty is trumping longevity when it should not.
I agree with Loveless, not because I believe TUDA or DBA are wasteful, but because of what we are losing from retiring the LTT. Last year, for the first time ever, there were widespread national declines in 4th and 8th graders’ achievement on the main NAEP. The drops flummoxed education watchers, leaving most with a “wait and see” stance.
The last LTT came in 2012, before the main NAEP declines, and the next one was originally scheduled for four years later. Those 2016 results would have provided an invaluable second view on the main NAEP declines. Hindsight being 20/20, it’s easy to regret a rescheduling that leaves us less informed at a time when we sorely need corroborating information. But last year’s announcement extends that 8-year gap to 12, the length of an entire academic generation.
Loveless calls the LTT a national treasure. Why? Not only because it can inform the present, but because it reaches over 45 years in the past. Any more delays will permanently undermine the viability of a consistent measure of long term trends. Once lost, we can never get this back.
The fate of the LTT does not hang on budgets; it hangs on NAGB’s priorities. If there is a fight to be had over maintaining the LTT or investing in new priorities, then let’s have it. But the LTT is too valuable to let it quietly suffer an ignominious death by a thousand postponements.
[i] P.L. 107–279, Title III, Section 303 (b)
There are no comments available.
1789 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036
© 2019 American Enterprise Institute