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Reforms Could Increase Dropouts, Dilute Curriculum, Study Says

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A task force of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development has concurred with those warning that the educational excellence movement could increase the dropout rate.

The panel also argues in a report scheduled for release this week that the movement may create a "diluted" curriculum.

There is a "disquieting possibility" that the increased academic requirements, adopted by state legislatures during the past two years in at least 44 states, "will prove counterproductive for substantial numbers of students," the six-member4task force warns in its report, "With Consequences for All."

"There is always the risk of making educational programs so stringent that you shut out a part of the population," said Donald A. Offermann, chairman of the task force and associate principal for instruction at Oak Park and River Forest High School in Illinois.

"We don't know for sure that that's going to happen," Mr. Offermann said in an interview last week, "but I think it's fair to say that there is the potential for that effect."

a.s.c.d. officials established the task force last March to examine the "probable impact" of increased academic requirements on all secon8dary-school students, said Diane G. Berreth, associate director of the ascd

The report encourages teachers and administrators at the local and state level to carefully monitor reform efforts and their effects on students, teachers, and the curriculum.

Lower Success Rates

According to the ascd report, new graduation requirements adopted in many states could "scale down" or eliminate vocational-education and general-track programs in most states, denying access to courses that promote the employability of students who do not plan to attend college.

In addition, the report states, requiring students in the lower fourth of their class to take more academic courses is "likely to lead to lower success rates for this group--the [students'] self-esteem and sense of fate control will ultimately deteriorate and that will further depress achievement and initiate a downward spiral."

Consequently, the report states, many borderline students may drop out of school earlier and in greater numbers.

The task force supports a more rigorous academic program, Mr. Offerman said last week, but he added that it is important not to "lose sight of the fact that there's great virtue in diversity and balance."

Impact on Curriculum

"As low-achieving students enroll in academic classes they would have preferred to avoid," the report states, "teachers will be faced with two unattractive options--they can either simplify courses so that a fairly large percentage of students have a reasonable chance to earn credit, or they can maintain standards and hand out discouraging grades to more students."

Task force members found both options unacceptable. "If coursework is diluted, the top achievers will be insufficiently challenged and bored. If coursework is kept potent, the low achievers will be overwhelmed and frustrated," the report states.

Recommendations

To forestall such unpleasant choices, the ascd task force sug-gests that, in addition to monitoring the effects of the reform movement, educators and policymakers:

Recognize that more than one path can lead successfully to a goal. State departments of education have shown that they are willing to consider unusual curriculum designs tailored to meet both local school needs and state mandates, the report states. It calls on local school districts to take the initiative in planning such programs.

Make certain that school faculties and other members of the professional staff share fully in the responsibility for interpreting state mandates.

Expand the public's understanding of the "realities" of education.

Task Force Members

In addition to Mr. Offermann, members of the a.s.c.d. panel are: Tony Hanley, director of secondary education, Alexandria, Va., public schools; Chris Pipho, senior information specialist, Education Commission of the States, Denver; Mary Anne Raywid, chairman, department of administration and policy studies, school of education, Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y.; Daniel Tanner, professor of education, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.; and Barbara Benham Tye, associate professor of education, Chapman College, Orange, Calif.

The report is available for $1.75 from the ascd, 225 North Washington St., Alexandria, Va. 22314; (703) 549-9110.

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