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Proposal Under Review to Reconstitute the National Commission on Testing and Public Policy

Heather Roberts-Fox

APA Science Directorate

A little known proposal is currently under review by a number of foundations that could have a major impact on the future of testing in the United States. RAND Corporation’s Institute on Education and Training ("RAND") and Boston College’s School of Education Center for the Study of Testing Evaluation and Educational Policy ("CSTEEP") submitted a proposal in late 1997 to reconstitute the National Commission on Testing and Public Policy.

"Never heard of it," you might shrug, and "Why should I care?" I can picture the blank look on your face—I shared it until very recently. A bit of background follows.

The National Commission on Testing and Public Policy (NCTPP) was formed in 1987 as an interdisciplinary body composed of individuals with expertise, interests, and experience in a wide variety of fields—education, business, labor, law, assessment and measurement, and manpower development and training (a prominent member of the Commission at the time was none other than Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton). The Commission’s mandate was: (a) to investigate trends, practices, and impacts of the use of standardized test instruments and other forms of assessment in schools, the workplace, and the military; and (b) to recommend improvements in testing that would promote the identification and nurturing of talent, especially among racial, ethnic, and linguistic minorities. Over a 3-year period, the Commission held hearings, heard presentations from a range of experts, and invited and reviewed over 50 papers. On May 23, 1990, the NCTPP released its 3-year study, From Gatekeeper to Gateway: Transforming Testing in America. The study, which was funded by the Ford Foundation and administered through Boston College, details the Commission’s 3-year examination of the role that testing plays in education and the workplace. The study’s guiding recommendation was that testing policies and practices should be restructured to help people develop their talents and to help institutions become more productive, just, and accountable.

One conclusion, in particular, reached by the members of NCTPP elicited concern from many administrators of large scale testing programs. The report read, "The lack of an audit or regulatory agency, the absence of mechanisms to interpret and enforce existing professional test standards uniformly, and the limitations of court challenges mean that the industry that develops the products used to regulate access to opportunities, and to hold individuals and institutions accountable, is itself largely unregulated and unaccountable. Government-sponsored testing in our society is too important, and the consequences to test takers too serious, to exempt the testing industry from thorough independent review, regulation, and accountability" (NCTPP, 1990, p.22). To remedy this, the Commission called for "the development of additional institutional means to examine the quality of tests and assessment instruments and to provide oversight of test use" (p.13).

The current proposal endorses the recommendations from the Commission and proposes to implement them by establishing an independent body to monitor testing. Specifically, the proposal requests that the Ford Foundation, in conjunction with other major foundations concerned with issues of equity around standards and test-based educational reform, reconstitute the NCTPP as an independent, institutional oversight agency that will review testing programs and catalyze close consideration of the diverse uses of testing. They are also proposing that the reconstituted Commission become a permanent institutional entity. The proposal asserts that they "do not see the reconstituted NCTPP regulating, accrediting, or licensing testing" (p.12, emphasis in original). Rather, the proposal indicates they will monitor, evaluate, and document aspects of national, state, and local testing programs. They suggest that cases may be selected for review based on (a) the number of people affected, (b) the stakes associated with test use, (c) the vulnerability of groups affected, and (d) the new and cutting edge nature of the testing programs. Given that the Ford Foundation previously sponsored the NCTPP activities, and partially funds Boston College’s CSTEEP program, there is a strong likelihood that the new proposal will be funded. However, no decision had been reached at the time this article went to press. [Editor’s note: Author has learned that the proposal will be funded by the Ford Foundation no later than September 1, 1998.]

It is important for SIOP members to note that the emphasis of the current proposal is on educational testing. Although the previous Commission included testing in the workplace and the military in their study, the proposed structure appears only to cover high-stakes educational tests that are for the most part publicly sponsored. There is no indication in this proposal that the Commission will seek to evaluate testing in the employment setting with the start-up funds from the foundation. However, APA will continue to monitor the status of this project and will keep SIOP members informed.


Vol. 36/No. 1 July, 1998

July 98 Table of Contents