National Testing Roadblocks Continue

K-12 Testing

A U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee has adopted budget language that extends a ban on using federal funds to implement President Clinton's proposed national test, which would cost an estimated $100 million annually. Additionally, a research committee has reported that the various state tests cannot be equated with each other, and the developer of a national test prototype has found that its scores do not match up with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).


In June, the appropriations subcommittee adopted language similar to that enacted last year which allowed some test design to proceed while blocking its implementation (see Examiner, Summer 1997). The measure is expected to pass the full House later this summer.


FairTest rallied several other civil rights and education organizations to send a joint letter to Congress opposing the national test. Last year, the test was defeated by a coalition of conservative Republicans and liberal Black and Hispanic representatives.


It remains unclear whether the Senate will include similar language. Senate education appropriations subcommittee chair Arlen Specter (R-PA) supports the national test, and the Senate is more evenly divided on the issue than is the House. Last year, the Senate did not approve such language, but it was included in the House-Senate conference bill that became law.


Test Cost

The General Accounting Office (GAO) has estimated that the annual cost of administering President Clinton's proposed national test will be $12 per eligible student, or $96 million if they all take the test. The Administration has proposed to pay for the first year of testing with federal funds, but subsequently the cost would be born by states or districts which use the exam. The June 18 GAO report estimated the initial development costs at $15 million.


Research Findings

In last year's appropriations legislation on the national test, the National Research Council (NRC) was charged with determining whether current state and commercial tests could be equated with each other, thereby enabling score reporting on a common scale. As expected, a preliminary NRC report found that the tests could not be equated. The Clinton administration maintained this meant there should be a national test, but apparently that finding did not sway members of the House. NRC will issue a final report this fall.


In June, researchers at the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which holds a national test development subcontract and makes the NAEP exams, reported that in trial runs, student scores on its prototype math and reading exams could not be matched to NAEP. That is, NAEP and the new exams could not be adequately equated. A likely explanation is that in narrowing NAEP to a short test with a higher percentage of multiple-choice and very-short-answer items, the testmakers created a substantially different test. According to ETS' Paul Williams, attempting to label students at even such broad NAEP levels as "basic" and "proficient" was a "coin toss." The administration has used the new tests' planned link to NAEP as a major selling point for the exam.


Meanwhile, NAEP reauthorization, due this year, probably will not be reconsidered until 1999.


For a copy of the letter from FairTest and allies, see our website at, or send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to National Testing Letter at FairTest.