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States Urged To Use Range of Indicators

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BOULDER, COLO.--States holding local schools accountable for student performance should use multiple indicators of achievement--not just student-test scores--to evaluate them, a task force appointed by the U.S. Education Department has concluded.

"What we are proposing gets around the simplistic notion that there is only one measure of school success,'' said the panel's chairman, Terry Peterson, special assistant to South Carolina's joint business-education committee.

Moreover, he said, the use of different measures would enable policymakers to target resources to what is most in need of improvement, and would lessen the "incentives'' schools have to manipulate data to make themselves look good.

In addition to the use of multiple indicators, the panel also urged states to consider a broad range of incentives and rewards to encourage high performance.

And if states choose to intervene in low-performing schools or districts, it says, they should "give local districts ample help and opportunity to improve on their own before'' acting.

The panel of officials from education departments, legislatures, and governors' offices in 10 states was selected by the E.D.'s office of educational research and improvement last year to study changes in states' accountability policies and to recommend improvements.

The group reported its preliminary findings here last week at a conference sponsored by the Education Commission of the States and the Colorado Department of Education. The final report is expected to be released this summer.

Performance Data Collected

The panel found that, in response to pressures from legislators, taxpayers, and business leaders, states are increasingly developing systems for collecting and reporting data on school and student performance.

Noting that state aid to local districts has increased by an average of 21 percent since 1981, the panel agreed that "states want to know the results of their spending.''

At the same time, it noted, many states have used such data to recognize outstanding students, teachers, and schools; to offer assistance for improvement; to provide cash awards or waive regulations for high-performing schools; or to intervene in low-performing schools.

While only a handful of states currently have authority to offer cash awards or to intervene, such "extreme'' measures are likely to become increasingly common, Mr. Peterson predicted.

But states using such authority should monitor schools' performance over time, he cautioned, rather than base actions on the way schools perform in a single year.--R.R.

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