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Obama Proposes NAEP Cut; Seeks State Pilot for Global Testing

One item tucked into President Obama's new budget request that you might have missed is a proposed cut to the esteemed "nation's report card."

The administration wants to trim $6 million from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a key measure of U.S. student achievement across disciplines relied upon by educators, policymakers, researchers, and, yes, journalists. The proposal comes as part of a $70 billion budget request for the U.S. Department of Education that, overall, would increase the agency's discretionary coffers by 2.5 percent. The NAEP cut would bring the testing budget down to $132 million, a reduction of 4.3 percent.

At the same time, the president's budget request would add $6 million—a strange coincidence, perhaps?—to create a pilot program for states to benchmark the performance of their 15-year-olds against that of students around the world on the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA.

The Obama administration suggests the NAEP cut wouldn't have any noticeable impact.

"The administration believes that the funds requested are sufficient to enable NAEP to fulfill its mission and continue to provide the critically important information needed on student achievement over time," it says in a budget document.

But Cornelia Orr, the executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, isn't so sure.

"I was really surprised myself," she said of the proposal, predicting that such a cut could lead to changes in the NAEP program, including possible testing delays.

"We might be asked to change the assessment schedule so an assessment doesn't occur in the year it's scheduled," she said. "We don't think any cuts are needed in the NAEP budget, and I don't think the [governing] board is going to enjoy having to have conversations about what to cut out of the NAEP program."

I should note that $1 million of the NAEP cut would come from the $8.7 million budget of the governing board itself.

As for the proposal for PISA, in essence, the pilot would allow "state-level results" on the international exam of 15-year-olds, the administration says. Participating states would be asked to pay a portion of the costs. The total cost per state would be about $600,000, the administration says.

Orr, however, suggested instead an approach that involves NAEP.

"I think that linking [PISA results] back to the NAEP scale would give more states access to that information," she said. Orr explained that even a state that wasn't part of the pilot could then look at its NAEP score and extrapolate from that to get a gauge on how its performance stacks up against other nations'.

The last round of PISA results came out in December 2010. The exam, which assesses literacy in reading, science, and math across dozens of countries, is given every three years. It will next be administered later this year, with a special focus this time on math.

Needless to say, it remains to be seen whether Congress will go along with a cut to the NAEP program, especially in a fiscal 2013 budget request that otherwise boosts overall spending at the Education Department.

For more analysis of the president's budget plans for education, check out this blog post on Obama's plans to trim back previous proposals for a set of "teaching and learning" funds. And for the bigger picture on the budget, check out our EdWeek story from the other day.

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