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Judge Schools by Value to Students, Scholar Urges

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Washington--Teachers must judge themselves on the basis of the "value" they add to their students, and they can best improve their performances if they are more careful about how they approach "time on task," speakers told the National Commission on Excellence in Education last week at its final meeting before beginning to write its report.

But the emphasis on goals and classroom time will be for naught unless educators stop thinking of schools as just another agency for delivering social-welfare services, another speaker warned the panel.

Alexander Astin, director of the Higher Education Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, said that educators must no longer use tests as tools for "sorting" students, but as devices to measure the "value added" to students by the school year.

Mr. Astin was joined at the commission meeting by Nancy Karweit of the Johns Hopkins University and David S. Seeley, a private education consultant. The 18-member commission, appointed a year ago by President Reagan, will make policy recommendations next fall for improving education.

Mr. Astin said schools should not judge themselves on the basis of test scores or the number of National Merit Scholarship finalists they enroll, because "it's like approaching astronomy by taking one snapshot of the sky." He said schools will improve only when they use test scores to measure students' individual development.

"We need more testing, more assessment," Mr. Astin said, "but in a different way. We now use assessment to sort people out. We have to emphasize the end result, motivate students to reach a goal."

Emphasizing time on task is useless unless directed at specific goals for learners, Mr. Astin said.

Ms. Karweit, a research scientist for the Center for the Study of School Organization at Johns Hopkins, agreed. She said a report by the Far West Laboratory, the National Institute of Education-sponsored organization in San Francisco, wrongly concluded that time on task was "the sole variable in explaining academic performance."

The report, the Beginning Teachers Evaluation Study, is too often cited as proof that simply increasing classroom hours will improve education, Ms. Karweit said.

"Time on task is very important, because time is something that you can manipulate, unlike budgets or what the family situation is," Ms. Karweit said. "But the studies of time on task haven't produced definitive results."

Ms. Karweit said many school policy makers were "shortsighted" in their eagerness to consider the time-on-task issue settled.

Educators should pay more attention to the factors that distract from the classroom hours, she added. Such factors include absenteeism, discipline problems, poorly planned lessons, and teacher strikes.

Schools Evade Responsibility

By simply concluding that more hours in the classroom will result in better performance, Ms. Karweit said, schools evade responsibility. "It's important to find strategies for cutting down on [distractions], like turning off the public-address system," she said. "By saying that time on task will definitely [improve academic performance], it lets the whole administration and bureaucracy off the hook."

Ms. Karweit said that Baltimore public-school students regularly achieve less academically than many rural school students who spent the same amount of time on the same tasks--an indication, she said, of the distractions of the urban classroom.

She added that there is evidence that the numerous strikes in Philadelphia's school districts contributed to poor performance by students.

Mr. Seeley, author of a recent book entitled Education Through Partnership, said that parents have been wrongly shut out of involvement with education because the school administrators have started to think of themselves as "service-delivery" agencies.

If the schools do not "reconnect themselves to the parents and families," Mr. Seeley said, the traditional public system will eventually give way to a system of vouchers or another public-private school mix.

Schools must make family involvement part of the "mainstream" education, rather than just a supplement to the school day, Mr. Seeley said. He suggested that parents become more involved in curriculum development, tutoring, and even classroom instruction.--ce

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