Brainy Parenting

Joint Statement from Peggy G. Carr, Ph.D., Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics and Lesley Muldoon, Executive Director of the National Assessment Governing Board

We are still just beginning to understand the many ways that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected our schools, our students, and all who work in education. We all faced and continue to face countless challenges. For us to move forward, we need to understand how deep these challenges run, how the pandemic has affected student achievement, and how our education system—including assessments—can adapt, innovate, and produce improved student outcomes.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), perhaps better known as The Nation’s Report Card, is in schools now, collecting vital data on what today’s students know and can do at this critical point in their academic careers, their learning experiences during the pandemic, where they struggle, and how we all can help. We’ll also learn about the impact on our teachers, and our schools. To do this, we’re working closely with state and local partners and employing all the experience we’ve gained keeping NAEP the gold standard in student assessment for more than fifty years. Yet we know we are at a crossroads.

The pandemic and NAEP’s inability to administer the 2021 assessment provided sobering lessons. We realized that many of the ideas we had for the future of NAEP needed to be fast-tracked; we needed to be able to reach students regardless of where and how they were learning, and to give the public more real-time, actionable data. And we need to move more quickly to adapt to the rapidly changing needs of stakeholders today to improve NAEP’s value to educators and policymakers.

We, as leaders of the two organizations responsible for the future of the NAEP program, are committed to working together to strengthen and reimagine NAEP, building on its reputation for rigor, quality, and independent, scientific integrity.

Here’s a preview of our thinking. It’s based on serious internal examination as well as conversations with our stakeholders, especially principals and other school leaders around the country. NCES has also held roundtables with leading scholars in the equity field, and the Governing Board has convened its task forces of state and urban district leaders, gathering great insights to inform NAEP innovation.

The first essential step is to modernize the test administration model and make it more efficient. NAEP is digital, though students still need to be in physical classrooms to take it. We’re working toward an online, anywhere, device-agnostic and adaptive NAEP. Another innovation to fast-track is automated scoring beyond what we’ve long been doing for multiple choice questions, exploring how artificial intelligence (AI) can evaluate student’s written responses. These are building blocks for a more efficient NAEP.

Our stakeholders need timely data, and during COVID, we were able to leverage NAEP’s school network to provide valuable, real-time data on how students were learning. Our touch-free survey operation monitored the movement of schools through the different modes of pandemic learning (in person, remote and hybrid) by state and by demographic characteristics. This year, we’ve shared the NAEP infrastructure so that NCES can gather other types of real-time data, such as teacher and school staff vacancies, vaccination rates, health and safety policies, and other stakeholder concerns. This “pulse” data is being produced and shared monthly.

We know that we can do more to provide timely and relevant information back to the people whose time and effort makes the Nation’s Report Card possible. NCES and the Governing Board are exploring a range of ideas to do just that—from linking NAEP scores to other assessments commonly used in states and districts to creating more flexible mini-NAEP assessments that schools can use on-demand.

Since the pandemic has made it clear that where students learn is changing, we are exploring ways to reach them wherever they are, with, for example, entirely remote test proctoring.

These are but a few ideas. In the months ahead, the National Center for Education Statistics and the National Assessment Governing Board will collaborate on a research and development agenda that will be guided by the principles of:

  • Utility. For data to be useful, they must paint a deeper picture of the educational experiences of all students. In the months ahead, we will meet with policymakers and other stakeholders in states and districts to hear what they most need to use the results to support meaningful improvements for all students.
  • Relevance. We will evaluate opportunities to provide products and services that are more actionable for stakeholders with boots on the ground. This includes evaluating the new domains and subjects that may be important for NAEP to assess given future needs and policy priorities.
  • Adaptability. It is important that NAEP—which, by design, makes changes carefully and methodically—become more adaptable and nimbler to assure its ongoing relevance. This includes more flexible administration and updating content as needed.
  • Equity. NAEP must lead the field in identifying new, empirically based methods to advance equity in assessment. We’re a nation of incredible diversity—and our data must capture what’s happening in every ZIP code; and the experiences of students of every race, sex, and ethnicity; as well as students with disabilities and English language learners. This could include collecting and reporting better indicators of socioeconomic status; looking deeper at what goes into widening gaps and insights into how to close them; and considering changes to NAEP assessment frameworks. With a little effort, we can get closer to understanding the “whys” of inequities without crossing the line of unjustifiable cause and effect.
  • Efficiency. Technological advances give us new opportunities to streamline NAEP’s delivery model, reduce burden on schools and reduce costs, while maintaining NAEP as the gold standard. As stewards of taxpayer dollars, we must always seek opportunities to create new efficiencies.
  • Quality. Innovations that push the new frontier must also uphold the technical rigor, integrity, and validity of NAEP. We aim to set up a new NAEP innovation lab to advance research and development for this program, to advance all these principles and keep quality at the center of our work.

The 2022 NAEP assessment underway now will provide the most comprehensive snapshot to date in the United States of student achievement and progress since Covid. We are eager to share the results. Meanwhile, we will be actively listening to and working with our stakeholders to build a strong collaboration for change, together.

We welcome your ideas and thank you for participating in and supporting the Nation’s Report Card, the gold standard today and for tomorrow.

Editor’s note: This was first published by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.