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Pennsylvania Board Delays Vote on 'Learning Outcomes'

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At the request of Gov. Robert P. Casey, the Pennsylvania state board of education has put off until January a vote on the "learning outcomes'' that all students must attain before graduation.

The vote, which had been scheduled for last week, would have been a key step in the state's shift to a new system, approved by the board last spring, that would require students to demonstrate performance, rather than amass course credits, in order to graduate.

But in a letter to Secretary of Education Donald M. Carroll Jr., Governor Casey noted that the proposed new rules have "prompted questions and concerns from some business organizations, parent groups, and legislators.''

"I believe additional time is needed to [shape an effective system],'' Governor Casey wrote, "and that it would be prudent to spend that time now before final action is taken on the regulations.''

Sister M. Lawreace Antoun, the chairwoman of the state board, said she was disappointed by Mr. Casey's request, but would defer to it.

"After nearly three years of work on these regulations,'' she wrote to Governor Casey, "and countless revisions suggested by many citizens, including parents, educators, and business leaders, state board members are ready to vote.''

Robert E. Feir, the board's executive director, said the delay might prompt the board to consider postponing implementation of the plan, which was scheduled to be put in place in a third of the state's districts next year.

57 Competencies

The proposed rules outline 57 competencies--from knowledge of mathematics and science concepts to an understanding of families and working well with others--that all students in the state are expected to master.

Under rules adopted by the board in March, districts are required to develop strategic plans that outline how they propose to enable students to attain the outcomes. The state education department currently is developing new assessments to measure student progress toward the outcomes.

The board had been scheduled once before, in September, to vote on the learning outcomes, but postponed its decision then amid concerns from lawmakers that the goals were too vague and that some could not be measured. The legislators also urged the board to include "benchmarks'' for student performance before grade 12. (See Education Week, Sept. 23, 1992.)

The new version accommodates several of those concerns, according to Mr. Feir. The language has been clarified to make the outcomes easier to understand and assess, he said, and to provide that they include benchmarks tied to state assessments.

Mr. Feir also noted that the new outcomes include a "clear statement that attainment of the outcomes shall not require students to hold or express particular attitudes, values, or beliefs.''

Nevertheless, Mr. Casey suggested that several issues remain, including the specificity of the outcomes, how they will be measured, and whether the testing strategy is adequate.

But the Governor also emphasized that he continues to support the shift to an outcome-based education system.

"The goal of determining a child's progress by what he or she actually knows and can do, rather than by how long the child attends school,'' he said, "represents a fundamental change in how schools do business.''

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