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New NAEP Writing Assessment Framework

Governing Board Launches Project to Develop New NAEP Writing Assessment Framework

(October 18, 2005) The National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) has awarded a $1.4 million contract for a major, widely-inclusive project to develop a new framework and specifications for the national assessment of writing beginning in 2011.

The contract was awarded to ACT, Inc., of Iowa City, a non-profit testing organization, formerly known as American College Testing. ACT has extensive experience in designing test frameworks and specifications, including a new writing assessment for its widely used college entrance exam that was introduced this year.

As the Nation's Report Card, The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the only nationally representative and continuing assessment of academic achievement in America's elementary and secondary schools. NAEP surveys national samples of students at grades 4, 8, and 12, and state-level samples at grades 4 and 8.

Under the 18-month contract, the committees preparing the new framework will consist of classroom teachers, curriculum specialists, test and measurement experts, and others with a wide range of backgrounds, including state and local policy makers, parents, and representatives of business, higher education, and the general public.

The project will submit its recommendations to the 26-member Governing Board, which sets policy for the National Assessment. Board action is expected in the spring of 2007.

"The ability to write clearly is an important skill for all students," said Charles E. Smith, Executive Director of NAGB. "It is a crucial means for them to understand and organize their own ideas as well to communicate effectively with others. The National Assessment Governing Board wants to hear a wide range of views on what sorts of writing should be expected of students both while they are in school and when they graduate. We also want to develop the best means we can to assess student writing in a fair and consistent way."

The current NAEP writing assessment framework was adopted by NAGB in 1990 and updated with specifications in 1995. The assessment based on it was given most recently in 2002 and under current plans will be repeated once more in 2007. The new framework, to be used first in 2011, will start a new trend line.

Work on the framework will start with a research brief and issues paper that will serve as a springboard for committee discussions. The research will include an analysis of state writing standards and assessments, which have expanded substantially over the past decade. There will also be a review of writing standards and tests in other countries; the standards prepared by national groups in the United States, such as the National Council of Teachers of English and the National Writing Project; and the performance descriptors and results on the major writing tests used in college admissions and placement.

In addition, ACT will conduct web exchanges and focus groups with university teachers, business and government employers, and the military to obtain their views on the writing skills students need to be successful. It will also seek input from recent high school graduates, and conduct a review of academic research and study group recommendations on student writing.

Throughout the development process there will be a series of forums around the country to receive the views of state and local writing experts, testing directors, classroom teachers, academic researchers, and members of the public.

Among issues to be considered are whether students should take the new assessment on computers rather than continuing to write timed essays by hand, and, if so, at which grades (4, 8, or 12) computers should be used. Another possible issue is whether the writing assessment should include a small proportion of multiple-choice questions to measure English grammar and mechanics in addition to the essay prompts it has had in the past.

The Governing Board, an independent, bipartisan group, is composed of state and local officials, educators, and public and business representatives. It plans to hold hearings and solicit comment on the Internet before acting on the framework recommendations.

NAEP surveys have been conducted on a national sample basis since 1969. State-level surveys in reading, mathematics, science, and writing began in 1990. The NAEP program is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, an agency in the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. It currently is conducted under contract by Educational Testing Service, Westat, Inc., and several other testing and research organizations.

Stephaan Harris