deep in the thickets of test design

(Cincinnati, OH) I have arrived here for meetings about standards in social studies. We have been sitting around a hollow-square table; a separate round stand holds the projector. There are damp steel water pitchers on the tables, which are covered with white linen skirts almost down to the heavily patterned carpet. In all these respects, the meeting precisely replicates the one that I left several hours ago in DC.

I was in Washington to help design the NAEP Assessment in Civics. I had also served on the design committee for the last NAEP Assessment, which was administered in 2010. Once again I am struck by the immense complexity of this effort, by the high degree of care, sophistication, and dedication of the scores of people involved–and by our tendency, in modern America, to dodge profound political or philosophical questions by trying to make our decisions look statistical or procedural rather than substantive. An elaborate system of review enlists experts, stakeholders, political appointees, civil servants, students who take pilot, and federal contractors. Most of this review is technical. But the great issues are: What should good citizens think and know? and (beneath that first one) What is true and important about our world?

I can’t really improve on my description of the NAEP process from March 2010, except to say that then, the windowless room with the hollow-square table was in Phoenix.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.