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Focus on Equity, Professional Issues Urged in Standards-Setting

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As states develop standards for student performance, they should at the same time put into place standards for equity and professional practice that would enable students to attain the desired performance, a new report argues.

"Outcome standards alone cannot guarantee accountable schools,'' states the report by the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. "In fact, if these are improperly designed or unintelligently used, they can actually undermine accountability.''

The 29-page report outlines 12 standards for schools, and argues that the state should prepare an annual report card to measure progress toward the standards.

But while such standards should set targets for schools, they should also permit flexibility in meeting them, said Linda Darling-Hammond, the co-director of the center and the author of the report.

"If you require specific approaches to providing certain inputs, and you require certain procedures, you don't get the outcomes you want,'' she said. "However, what the rush to the outcome-based approach has often done is leave many schools hanging without the resources to get there.''

Changing Reality

Ms. Darling-Hammond's report, "Standards of Practice for Learner-Centered Schools,'' was prepared for the New York State board of regents as it considers ways to implement the New Compact for Learning, a 1991 plan to shift to an outcome-based system of education.

In addition to developing a set of outcomes for students, the board has also agreed to develop ways to measure school quality.

As part of that plan, several schools in the state this fall are testing a system of "school-quality reviews,'' modeled in part on a British system, in which teams of teachers, administrators, and members of the community study the teaching and learning that goes on in schools to determine if it matches a school's goals. (See Education Week, Sept. 9, 1992.)

Ms. Darling-Hammond said that the report was aimed at outlining a set of standards the review teams could "orient their work around.''

According to the report, the standards fall into three areas:

  • Equitable access. All students, it states, should have access to funding, to well-prepared, fully qualified teachers, and to materials and equipment.
  • Professional practice. Students, it says, should be treated with respect and should be well known to adults responsible for their development; they should have access to a rich and challenging curriculum that is taught in ways that are cognitively and developmentally appropriate; and they should be evaluated using assessment strategies that are appropriate and authentic measures of the goals being pursued.
  • Accountable school functioning. Teachers and other staff members, the report argues, should have "vigorous'' involvement in decisionmaking; professional-development opportunities should be an integral part of the ongoing work of the school; and parents, students, and staff members should have regular opportunities to provide input to schools about their performance.

The report notes that, in addition to helping schools assess their own performance, the standards could also serve as an incentive for them to improve their practice, particularly if indicators of progress are reported to the public.

"Indicators not only measure reality,'' the report states, "they change it.''

Copies of the report are available for $8 each, prepaid, by writing or calling the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching, Box 110, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, N.Y. 10027; (212) 678-3432.

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