ERIC Identifier: ED286943
Publication Date: 1985-00-00
Author: Hogan, Thomas P.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Tests Measurement and Evaluation Princeton NJ.
Measurement Implications of "A Nation at Risk." ERIC Digest.
"A Nation at Risk," the final report of the National Commission on Excellence
in Education, is a slim volume--the main body of the report is a mere 31, not
very tightly packed, pages. It represents the outcome of deliberations involving
18 months of meetings, about three-quarter of a million dollars in costs, some
40 commissioned papers in addition to the untold number of extant papers
consulted, and testimony provided by hundreds of individuals from every level of
education, business, and government.
Following its own advice to students, the Commission did quite a bit of
homework. Now, as is true with students' homework, the question is: What are the
One may attempt to answer this question from a variety of perspectives. For
example, did the Commission accomplish its charges? What are the implications
for universities? For elementary schools? What are the important variables which
the Commission chose not to address?
Here, however, we will concentrate on only one perspective, namely, the field
of measurement. What are the report's implications for the field of measurement
and for measurement specialists? There are, I believe, three principal
implications from this perspective.
The first implication is motivational. At a minimum, the report should give
the measurement specialist an ego-boost. If you, as a measurement specialist,
ever wondered if anybody did or ever will care about your work, the report
should lay your doubts to rest. It is replete with results yielded from various
testing programs, the fruit of the measurement specialist's work. In fact, the
fires of national consciousness regarding an educational crisis probably have
been fueled more by test results than by all other sources of information
Furthermore, the report calls for more testing: more frequent testing, more
kinds of tests in more different fields, and more attention to test results.
Testing plays a prominent role in the Commission's plans for remedying the
currently perceived problem--heady prospects for the measurement field.
A second implication from a measurement perspective is a more sobering one,
an antidote of sorts for the first implication. In calling for increased use of
and reliance on testing, the report does not acknowledge the myriad of
measurement problems lurking in the background. What problems? Nothing pecial,
just the traditional problems of validity, reliability, setting standards,
norms, and so on. But calling the problems "traditional" makes them no less
real, no less difficult.
I choose to think that, rather than being unaware of these problems, the
Commission had confidence that the measurement community could handle them, both
in professionally prepared tests and in training teachers to prepare their own
tests. Thus, a substantial responsibility is thrust upon the measurement
A third implication from a measurement perspective consists of a host of
highly specific matters which measurement specialists must anticipate, if indeed
the report has any impact. Without attempting an exhaustive list, I will name a
few of these. Because of the Commission's preoccupation with high school
education, there should be an upsurge in standardized testing at the high school
level, traditionally an after-thought to the elementary school testing program.
There may be a resurgence of interest in standardized tests in the "content"
areas: biology, algebra, foreign language, and so on. Test construction has for
the past 10 to 15 years devoted much care to assuring sufficient "bottom" in
their tests, without overmuch concern about the "top." It appears that the "top"
will need to make a comeback. Measures of teaching quality will probably
flourish (with what validity remains to be seen).
The report also contains a curiously worded call for a nation-wide (but not
federal) system of state and local standardized tests. The report does not
suggest what is meant by a "system." There is no evidence that the Commission
was calling for the creation of some new organization or some kind of a
Rather, when speaking about tests and textbooks, which are addressed in the
same section of the report, the Commission seems content to rely on existing
mechanisms for the creation and distribution of both tests and texts, while
concentrating on recommendations for improvement of their quality and use. The
general context of the report suggests that the "system" referred to is best
thought of as a pattern of activity rather than some specific entity.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Alexander, Karl L., and Pallas, Aaron M. "Curriculum Reform and School
Performance: An Evaluation of the 'New Basics.'" AMERICAN JOURNAL OF EDUCATION
92 (1984): 391-420.
Guthrie, John T., Editor. RESPONDING TO "A NATION AT RISK": APPRAISAL AND
POLICY GUIDELINES. Newark, DE: International Reading Association, 1983. ED 240
Jordan, K. Forbis, and McKeown, Mary P. FISCAL POLICY IMPLICATIONS OF THE
EDUCATION REFORM REPORTS. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American
Educational Research Association, New Orleans, April, 1984. ED 245 326.
Resnick, Daniel P., and Resnick, Lauren B. "Improving Educational Standards
in American Schools." PHI DELTA KAPPAN 65 (1983):178-180.
Spady, William G. "Organizing and Delivering Curriculum for Maximum Impact."
In MAKING OUR SCHOOL MORE EFFECTIVE: PROCEEDINGS OF THREE STATE CONFERENCES. ED
Suhor, Charles. 1984 REPORT ON TRENDS AND ISSUES IN ENGLISH: A SUMMARY OF
REPORTS FROM THE NCTE COMMISSIONS, 1984. ED 239 290.
TESTIMONY PRESENTED AT AN OPEN HEARING OF THE NATIONAL COMMISSION ON
EXCELLENCE IN TEACHER EDUCATION (AUSTIN, TEXAS, OCTOBER 4-5, 1984), 1984. ED 250
West, Dan C. "Providing Quality Education for the 1980's." LIBERAL EDUCATION