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Topic: New 8th Grade Maths. Test
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
New 8th Grade Maths. Test
Posted: Feb 3, 1999 9:05 PM
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Education Week, Vol. 18, Number 21, p. 16

Achieve Planning New Math Test For 8th Grade

By David J. Hoff

Washington (Education Week on the Web)

A group led by governors and corporate executives is ready to create a new
8th grade mathematics test and is waiting for the go-ahead from states.

Achieve Inc., which was founded in the aftermath of the 1996 education
summit in Palisades, N.Y., unveiled a plan here last week to devise a test
to evaluate students on math principles emphasized in countries whose
students perform the best in international studies. The test would be an
adjunct to current state tests.

Officials of the Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit group said leaders from
19 states have expressed interest in the proposed 45-minute exam, but
added that those states need final approval from their governors and
legislatures before signing on.

"We got a strong affirmation that this is a direction in which people want
to move," Robert B. Schwartz, Achieve's president, said after a two-day
meeting in which chief state school officers and assessment directors
discussed the proposal.

Gauging Interest

Governors on Achieve's board will be lobbying their colleagues to buy in to
the idea when the National Governors' Association meets here next month,
Mr. Schwartz added. After gauging interest there, Achieve's board will
decide at its meeting next month whether to pursue the proposal.

Initial reaction from other state officials, however, has led Mr. Schwartz
to believe that Achieve will proceed so that, by the spring of 2001, it can
offer an exam that would supplement state-level assessments.

Looking Abroad

The exam would be designed so that states can collect data on how each 8th
grade classroom is performing on two-dimensional geometry, proportions,
exponents, and other skills and content that prepare students for algebra
and other high school courses.

Achieve officials said the test would fill a niche not addressed by
state-level exams or the sampling done by the National Assessment of
Educational Progress.

Most state examinations, according to an analysis conducted for Achieve,
address simple skills such as computation and fractions.

They ignore the higher-level content tested by countries that performed the
best on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, according to
William H. Schmidt, a professor of education at Michigan State University
in East Lansing, who evaluated the state assessments for Achieve.

"The focus of [states' current tests] is at least in part on what the
top-achieving countries don't consider essential for that grade level," Mr.
Schmidt said.

The test Achieve is proposing would gauge what those other countries
consider necessary, Mr. Schwartz said.

U.S. 8th graders scored below average on the 1995 TIMSS survey of student
achievement in 41 countries.

The Achieve test would give more specific information than NAEP, the
federal testing program that periodically samples student achievement in
various core subjects.

Because NAEP is a sampling, it reports statewide scores but offers no clue
about how well individual schools--or even whole districts--are performing
compared with one another.

In the testing period proposed by Achieve, states could learn how schools
and even students in individual classrooms are learning the mathematical
material stressed by other countries, Mr. Schwartz said.

And, unlike President Clinton's proposed national test for 8th grade math,
Achieve's appears to be politically viable, he argued.

Mr. Clinton's proposal, which also would assess 4th graders' reading
ability, has been slowed by congressional opposition that is unlikely to
disappear in his remaining time in office.

'Embedding' Dashed

The approach of creating a supplementary exam is a new one for Achieve,
whose leaders include Fortune 500 chief executives.

Achieve's leaders first proposed garnering comparable achievement data
across states without designing a whole new test. ("Strong Words
Underscore National Testing Questions," Feb. 18, 1998.)

They hoped to insert--or "embed"--a battery of questions into existing
tests so that they wouldn't add much time to what states now set aside for

But that approach wouldn't have calculated class-level data, and it would
have forced states to reprint and redesign existing test forms, said
Matthew Gandal, the group's director of standards and assessment.

"You need to have a significant number of questions," he said. "We couldn't
sprinkle in four or five questions" to get the results Achieve wanted.

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)

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