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 results?

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 combined.

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 community.

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 supertest.

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.


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 240 525.

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 249 579.



West, Dan C. "Providing Quality Education for the 1980's." LIBERAL EDUCATION 70 (1984):153-157.

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