New Standards Project

K-12 Testing

Demand is growing for New Standards Project (NSP) materials, according to its Assessment Director Phil Daro. The NSP is a national effort to use a variety of forms of performance assessments (portfolios, projects and performance exams) to measure individual and program progress toward meeting high academic standards, possibly including a national exam or assessment system. The Project is jointly run by the National Center on Education and the Economy and the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh. Other key participants include the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the University of California.


The increased demand for New Standards material may be due in part to the current conservative political movement. The 1994 elections replaced many state and local office holders. As a result, some comprehensive assessment reform plans were abandoned. With limited funds, jurisdictions decided to buy assessments rather than develop their own. New Standards products are among those being purchased.


The accelerated demand for its assessments has pushed NSP to complete development of its products. It expects to have English and Mathematics exams available for grades four, eight and ten in late 1995. The English exam will include 25% multiple-choice items with the rest open-ended. The mathematics exam may also include a multiple-choice section. In addition to lower cost, NSP believes the inclusion of some multiple-choice items increases public acceptance. However, NSP leaders also think the multiple-choice format is appropriate only for a limited number of areas in any subject.


Improved English and Mathematics handbooks for students, teachers, and parents, as well as scoring materials and procedures, will be ready for distribution in September. The handbooks provide concrete standards and a large number of helpful examples.


Each participating state or district will decide whether it wants its own teachers to score the assessments under NSP monitoring and auditing, or to contract out the scoring. For example, in 1994, NSP contracted with Psychological Corporation (now known by the name of its parent company, Harcourt Brace) to score the 1994 Mathematics exam, a mixture of short answer and open-ended questions. Psychological Corp. scored 42,000 exams, some in Spanish, using New Standards' protocols, procedures and principles.


Daro's preference is for teachers to score performance assessments to encourage professional development in classroom instruction. "Without active participation by teachers in scoring assessments," Daro stresses, "reform is meaningless."


A school score will be produced for every assessment. Individual student scores will only be created if requested by a school. However, NSP says that it will not allow states to use individual scores for placement or graduation purposes.


This Fall, NSP will also offer a portfolio package for local use in mathematics and English. New Standards is researching portfolio systems from various states and other countries to find ideas for improvement. Portfolio systems will eventually be one of the standard methods of NSP assessment. A national certification by NSP of portfolio scores is planned for 1996-97 or 1997-98. Daro hopes to see widespread voluntary use of the portfolio system.


On the technical side, New Standards uses content standards developed by curriculum organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE. They also use state frameworks and standards and are currently developing their own performance standards. The math and English exams will meet the federal Title I (formerly Chapter 1) requirement to provide school level scores at least once each in elementary, middle and high school. The portfolio scores will meet the requirement for reporting to parents on progress toward standards for individual students from grade 3 on.


Daro also believes that financing will change at New Standards in the next three years. Currently the project is financed through dues from participating states and districts; all products are given to clients at no cost. In the near future, clients will be charged for products and services because dues have not adequately covered costs. NSP will remain a non-profit organization governed by a board of directors.


New Standards requires all state members to agree to actively work towards equity for all students while using its products (see article, page 11). It is unclear what will happen to the agreement when New Standards begins to sell its products to a broader market.


Ultimately, NSP expects that the combination of standards and performance assessments will promote improved learning. Independent studies will be needed to determine whether the new assessments have positive educational consequences, rather than the harmful consequences of traditional standardized tests.


For further information, contact Doug Smith at NSP c/o NCEE, 700 11th St. NW, Suite #750, Washington, D.C. 20005; (202) 783-3668.