Fewer students to take NAEP due to COVID-19 challenges

Table of Contents

Dive Brief:

  • The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) will be administered this school year in its traditional format, but should have a smaller testing population and will not include national-only assessments for grade 8 U.S. history and civics and the age 17 long-term trend, according to a notice in the Federal Register to be published Oct. 13.

  • The National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Department of Education office that administers the NAEP, said on its 2021 assessment webpage it is working with state and district education leaders regarding the best ways to administer the biennial assessments to students during the pandemic.
  • Assessment experts and the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the assessments, are voicing support for the continuation of large-scale and summative assessments this school year but acknowledge the difficulty of administering exams when students are learning in remote or hybrid formats.

Dive Insight:

A smaller but still representative sample of students should take the grades 4 and 8 reading and math NAEP assessments because Congress did not approve additional funding for personal protective equipment, more field staff and other operational costs that would be needed to assess the full sample, according to the Federal Register notice. The public can comment on the NAEP changes described in the Federal Register notice through Nov. 12.

The notice did not say, however, how much the test-taking population would be reduced by. A representative sample of students from every state take the NAEP exams, rather than the entire population of students. For example, 149,500 fourth-graders from 8,280 schools and 147,400 eighth-graders from 6,960 schools took the 2019 mathematics assessment, according to NCES’ information about samples, inclusion and participation.

The NAEP test-taking window is typically January through March. A waiver from Congress would be necessary to postpone the assessments from 2021 to 2022.

NCES is also proposing that the 2021 NAEP have an online version of the student questionnaires available to sampled students who are remote and not able to be assessed in-person. Meanwhile, NAEP administrators want to add five-minute questionnaires for students, teachers and school administrators about their school experiences during the pandemic, including whether devices were available to students when school buildings were closed and what teachers are doing to address learning gaps this school year.

NAEP, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, is the largest, national representative of what students know in a variety of academic subjects at different grade levels. The data collected is used to gain insights into student subgroup performances, to track trends in performance, and to guide policies and practices.

Results for the 2019 grade 12 reading and math assessments will be released later this month. 

The pandemic is disrupting the state-level assessment process, as well. State education leaders and national testing experts spoke recently on a webinar hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers about the difficulty of administering state summative assessments because some students are learning remotely or are socially distanced when on school campus. However, they also talked about the value of capturing student performance data through the assessments in order to make decisions about instruction and resources.

“We can’t use this moment to deny students access to high quality instruction and curriculum and in fact, we really need to double down,” said Denise Forte, senior vice president for partnership and engagement at The Education Trust, during the webinar.

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