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By All Measures: 'Sequencing Is Critical'

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Michael H. Kean

Establishing a national system of assessments will not succeed if we fail to address head-on the issues that are at the very foundation of any viable testing system.

The most basic of these issues relates to timing. Tests can only be developed once standards are set--not before, and not at the same time. And for those assessments to mean anything, a great deal has to happen before they are built. On this point, education should draw a lesson from the business world's "total quality management'' approach.

When Deputy Secretary of Education David Kearns took the reins at Xerox in 1982, for example, he recognized that a 17 percent improvement was needed to catch up to foreign competitors. He did much more than simply create new higher standards for performance and measure whether the company met the targets. He made those standards truly achievable by providing employees with the tools to meet them--spending three years to train 100,000 employees, providing managers 28 hours of training on quality alone, and then instructing those managers to train their people with the same intensity. Not surprisingly, they reached their goal.

The same sequencing approach is critical to successful education reform. Simply put, in order to reach our goals, we must first provide the necessary tools and resources. That means designing curricula that reflect the new standards and training to implement them. It means creating textbooks and other materials based on them. And it means ensuring that these books and resources are in the classroom. If we assess progress toward reaching the new standards without putting these steps in place, we will only measure one thing: failure (and continued frustration).

It will be a national tragedy if, after all the current discussion and debate about education reform, we look back 10 years from now and realize that we have not improved achievement or better prepared students for the world that awaits them--because we mistakenly thought that new and different tests would revolutionize education.

Michael H. Kean is chairman of the Association of American Publishers' test committee and a vice president of CTB Macmillan/McGraw-Hill.

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