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Outcome-Based Accreditation Plan Advances in Wyoming

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Wyoming would become one of only a handful of states that tie school accreditation to performance, under a proposal given preliminary approval by the state board of education last week.

The outcome-based accreditation system would allow districts and schools to set their own goals and to choose the assessment methods they would use for measuring progress toward reaching them.

The new standards would also eliminate the use of so-called Carnegie units--the "seat time" students spend in various subject areas--for high-school accreditation. In its place, students would be expected to meet locally determined standards for mastering a common core of knowledge and set of skills.

Melodye Bush, an information specialist at the Education Commission of the States, said Montana has also adopted an outcome-based system, and between 15 and 20 states are discussing similar options. At least four other states do not use Carnegie units, she added. (See Education Week, Nov. 8, 1989.)

The Maryland Board of Education in December adopted a school-reform package that included an outcome-based accreditation system for schools and districts. The system has not yet been developed, however.

The Wyoming board will decide later this year whether to give final approval to the proposal.

Emphasis on Local Control

The plan represents "quite a difference in direction for the state of Wyoming," said Audrey Cotherman, the deputy state superintendent of public instruction. "It recognizes the strength we already have--local control."

Schools currently can stay accredited if they possess a certain number of "inputs," such as library books or course offerings, and can justify their yearly planning process to state officials. There is no statewide testing program.

Under the new system, schools and districts would be required to seek the help of parents and community members to set goals and to determine which assessments will be used for measuring progress. Ms. Cotherman said this would allow schools and districts to select goals that are appropriate for their student populations.

The state would not set any minimum standards for schools, she noted, and would not require any one assessment method.

The plan reflects the recommendations of a school-accreditation task force appointed by the board, as well as those of another state panel that recommended that students master a common core of knowledge, skills, and attitudes before they graduate from high school.

Besides mastering language arts, mathematics, and other academic subjects, students would be expected to demonstrate creativity, keyboarding and computer abilities, and interpersonal skills.

Ramsay W. Selden, director of the state education-assessment center of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said he thought the proposed system "would be more powerful" if it contained both locally chosen goals and criteria determined by the state. Without the latter, he said, it would be difficult for parents and community members to compare individual schools and districts.

In 1988, a National Association of State Boards of Education panel urged states to drop Carnegie units and instead require students to master a core of knowledge. (See Education Week, Nov. 2, 1988.)--ef

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