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Assessment of Catholic Religious Education (ACRE)

Revision Revisited

Diana Dudoit Raiche

n e-mail sent to NCEA's Department of Religious Education recently came to my attention: "We have heard that the ACRE is currently undergoing a revision and a new version will be available for the 2001-2002 school year. Is this information correct? Please advise." Yes! ACRE is being revised and the process for revising ACRE is moving along as expected. An earlier article, "Revision on the Horizon: Assessment of Catholic Religious Education (ACRE)" in Momentum (April/May 2000), recalled background information regarding the development and previous revisions of NCEA's assessment instruments. In addition, the article detailed the rationale and expected time line for the ACRE revi-


sion project. This article will update readers on the revision process and respond to the request, "please advise," by offering practical suggestions for transitioning to the revised assessment tool.

ACRE Revision ­ A Consultative and Collaborative Process

As an assessment tool, ACRE requires simultaneous attention on two fronts: accurate, balanced content as well as reliable, valid technical properties. In attending to content considerations, NCEA has made a commitment to a broad-based consultative process. Acknowledging that religious education leaders at all levels have a contribution to make, the Department of Religious Education conducted a nationwide search for talented religious educators and administrators who were willing to commit time and talent to the revi-

sion project. From within NCEA, these recommendations came from the Departments of Religious Education, Secondary Education, Elementary Education, Chief Administrators in Catholic Education (CACE), as well as the Supervision, Personnel and Curriculum (SPC) division of CACE. NCEA members who are diocesan directors of religious education, superintendents of Catholic schools, principals, and directors of religious education, identified talented religious education practitioners in their locales. Outside NCEA, other recommendations came from the USCC, Department of Education, the NCCB Office of the Catechism, and faculty members at Catholic universities. To address the area of technical properties for a revised ACRE, NCEA searched for project partners as collaborators who are experts in the field of psychometrics (educational testing and assessment). After interviewing 13 potential project partners, and with the support of the ACRE Revision Steering Committee and Executive Committee of the Department of Religious Education, NCEA selected two educational centers with a proven track record in collaborating on such projects. In July, Dr. John Poggio and Dr. Douglas Glasnapp at the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation (CETE) at the School of Education, University of Kansas, together with Dr. Joe Pedulla at the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Educational Policy, Boston College, began guiding the technical work of the revision.

ACRE Revision: Projected Time Line

Early fall:

In October, NCEA's project partners in the field of psychometrics facilitated the work of two critically important committees made of religious education/catechetical leaders and practitioners who were recommended to NCEA. Using Dr. Jane Regan's theological analysis of the

Diana Dudoit Raiche is assistant executive director, Religious Education Assessment, Department of Religious Education of the National Catholic Educational Association. 60

Momentum November/December 2000

"How can we assess faith? Not only is it possible to assess competency in religious knowledge, is also possible to assess how well or poorly youth are appropriating a sense of Catholic identity..."


current ACRE instruments and the responses from the field to that report,1 a blueprint committee was charged with mapping out the "test specifications" for the revision. Within the confines of those specifications and giving careful attention to answer choices and distracters, an itemwriting committee concentrated on writing new and revised questions.

safeguard accurate and age-appropriate content.

Late spring:

At the NCEA Convention and NPCD Convocation to be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 2001, NCEA members can expect to see a preview of a revised national assessment instrument for religious education. When used regularly and appropriately, such an instrument has the potential to assist all catechetical leaders and practitioners in their calling to help the next generation understand Catholic teaching and to appropriate a Catholic identity.

Late fall:

In the November/December time frame, CETE and CSTEEP will create sample assessment booklets based on the work of these committees. The first draft will be subjected to a pilot test phase. A large and representative national sample of schools and religious education programs will be contacted and asked to become involved in the pilot test (approximately one class period). In this way, development will rely on information secured from those groups that ACRE is intended to serve. This will give the professional test makers the data they need to produce yet another version of the assessment tool for field testing with a wider audience of students in early Spring of 2001. At every stage of development, as changes are made to ensure appropriate technical properties, the theological content and catechetical language of the survey will be reviewed to

August 2001:

Revised ACRE will be available for use in Catholic schools and parishes.

To Assess or Not to Assess in Religious Education -- That is the Question

Each year, approximately 30 percent of Catholic schools and two percent of parish religious education programs2 acknowledge the value of assessment for religious education by using ACRE. Those percentages

translate into approximately 100,000 students. What do the other 70 percent of Catholic schools and 98 percent of parish religious education programs do to determine how well they are accomplishing their catechetical goals? Some schools and parishes have never heard of ACRE, even though NCEA has provided religious education assessment tools for over 20 years. In that case, students, parents, catechists, principals, and directors of religious education may rely on anecdotal information as a basis for appraising catechetical efforts. Where diocesan leaders promote religious education assessment and ACRE in particular, a high percentage of schools and parishes use ACRE. They also trust the ACRE reports that provide objective data on which to base sound judgments for adjusting or maintaining their religion program emphases. Some catechetical leaders object to the notion of religious education assessment. In some instances, fear prevents catechetical leaders at diocesan and local levels from promoting or using ACRE. Afraid that their students will not perform well, they simply do not participate in religious education assessment. Others ask: How can we assess faith? Not only is it possible to assess competency in religious knowledge (vocabulary, 61

Momentum November/December 2000

appropriate continuity with the previous instrument. Finally, by incorporating new insights gained through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the General Directory for Catechesis and documents pertaining to ecumenism, Catholic social teachings and human sexuality, ACRE users will be confident that they are assessing what is central to the Catholic faith as a whole.


Obviously, participants in religious education assessment will have to prepare for the transition at every level. Those who value objective and reliable data in religious education will see to it that diocesan, school, and parish budgets support religious education assessment as a high priority. Diocesan leaders will want to find out as much as they can about the revised tool. Some will learn about it though annual NCEA department meetings. Some will become more knowledgeable by participating in the pilot or field test phase of the revision project. Others who were part of the blueprint or item-writing committees will have firsthand knowledge of the revision that they can share within a diocese and at regional or national meetings. Those who have not yet participated in ACRE may learn more about the tool through reading articles like this one in Momentum or other publications dedicated to religious education. Principals of Catholic schools and parish directors of religious education will also need to be prepared to administer and interpret the revised instrument. Local faculty, staff, and volunteers should be informed that a revised ACRE is on the horizon. Ordering new survey booklets early in the academic year will give everyone involved an opportunity to prepare to use the revised materials with confidence. When the administration guide and survey booklets arrive, read them carefully. Discuss the materials with pastors, parents, and members of boards of education. By allowing the assessment tool to foster conversation around curricular em-

phases, stated objectives, and strategies for implementing goals, everyone will have a clearer understanding of what assessment in religious education is about and why it is so important. Improved and enhanced ACRE reports should facilitate follow up conversations on how to strengthen local, diocesan, and national catechetical efforts. Procedures being put in place for this ACRE revision will go a long way toward assuring that the content coverage and emphases of the assessments continue to be valid and appropriate to support local evaluation, and curriculum and instructional decision making.


Assessment in the area of religious education is not exactly the same as testing for mastery of math or science at a particular grade level. ACRE reports lend themselves to pastoral interpretation and prudent judgment regarding curricular emphasis and the constitutive elements in a religious education program. Each diocese, school, and parish will need to articulate its rationale for engaging in religious education assessment. That rationale will depend in large part on how well faith is understood not merely as a private, personal affair. Faith has a communal dimension that is worth communicating to the community. A religious education assessment tool like ACRE facilitates the kind of communication that can influence the shape and direction of future faith formation initiatives. Anyone who wishes to send comments or suggestions regarding the ACRE revision project is invited to do so. Send your recommendations by mail to NCEA, Department of Religious Education, 1077 30th Street, NW, Suite 100, Washington, DC 20007 or by e-mail to [email protected] s

doctrinal teaching, etc.), it is also possible to assess how well or poorly youth are appropriating a sense of Catholic identity through their religious beliefs, behaviors, practices, and perceptions. ACRE promotes a holistic approach to catechesis by attending to matters of the heart as well as of the head.

Using a Revised ACRE: Please Advise!

School and parish leaders who are already convinced that assessment in religious education has value may have questions regarding how to make the transition to a revised ACRE. First, the revised tool will maintain its balanced approach to religious education assessment by retaining both the cognitive (religious knowledge) and affective (beliefs, behaviors, practices, and perceptions) sections of the instrument. Second, by rewording, revising, dropping, or adding only about 20 to 25 percent of the questions, ACRE will maintain 62


1. For additional context of Dr. Regan's analysis, see my article "Revision on the Horizon: Assessment of Catholic Religious Education (ACRE)" in Momentum Vol. 31, No. 2 (April/ May 2000): 51-53. 2. This figure is a percentage of the approximately 19,000 parishes in the United States.

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