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Back to October Ed Reporter
Education Reporter
NUMBER 213 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS OCTOBER 2003

Feds Clamp Down on Nosy Questions 
U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige (far right) addressing principals and state school officers last January at a celebration to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the signing of the No Child Left Behind Act.
U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige (far right) addressing principals and state school officers last January at a celebration to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the signing of the No Child Left Behind Act.
WASHINGTON, DC - Background surveys that accompany national achievement tests will have to be shorter and less intrusive under a new policy announced September 12 by the National Assessment Governing Board.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test administration includes questionnaires for teachers, principals and students covering such issues as television viewing habits and the performance of children in single-parent households. The governing board, which now oversees the testing under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, has directed the U.S. Education Department to eliminate 25% to 40% of the questions in use.

The No Child Left Behind Act bars the NAEP from asking about "personal or family beliefs or attitudes." The governing board concluded that the surveys were becoming too burdensome and had little to do with the primary mission of the test. As reported in The New York Times (9-16-03), board chairman Darvin M. Winick said researchers have been relying on the surveys as an omnibus research project at taxpayer expense.

Before the policy change, the questionnaires included approximately 100 questions for teachers, 65 questions for principals, and 30 to 50 questions for students. Noting that by law the NAEP may collect only information "directly related to the appraisal of academic achievement," the new policy requires that future surveys focus on cognitive achievement and use "far fewer non-cognitive questions."

The NAEP, also known as "the nation's report card," tests students in grades 4, 8 and 12. In the 1980s, it began using many more non-cognitive questions as part of its background information gathering.

While parents can be relieved that their children will face fewer prying personal questions, social science researchers are complaining bitterly about losing a source of classroom data. The Heritage Foundation's research fellow Kirk A. Johnson, who has advocated broadening the surveys to include parent responses, told the Times he thinks the answers to the questions being eliminated are "of public policy interest."

Observers credit longtime parental opposition to nosy questionnaires for the new NAEP policy. Pro-family groups fought hard to put a provision against intrusive surveys in the No Child Left Behind Act. The parental victory in the lawsuit against the Ridgewood, N.J. survey (see Education Reporter, January 2002), and the cancellation of the survey in Fairfax County, Va. (see Education Reporter, May 2003) have had a big impact on the education establishment.


 
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