Center Lists Skills Both Disabled, Nondisabled Should Have
A federally funded research center has unveiled a list of academic and life skills it says all students--disabled as well as nondisabled--should have upon leaving school.
The wide-ranging list compiled by the National Center for Educational Outcomes at the University of Minnesota includes 25 outcomes for what young people should gain from school and 77 indicators of whether those outcomes are being achieved. Developed over two years with the assistance of hundreds of educators nationwide, the list is intended as a model that states, school districts, and other groups can use to gauge how well all students are doing.
"We ought to be trying to achieve the best possible outcomes for all kids,'' said James E. Ysseldyke, the director of the center. "We shouldn't have a separate system of outcomes and educators for disabled kids.''
While the architects of national school reforms have begun talking in recent years about improving schooling for all children, children with disabilities have largely been overlooked by the nationwide push to measure the outcomes of schooling for students.
National assessment efforts, for example, vary widely in the degree to which they include students with disabilities. Curriculum standards and frameworks being developed by some states and at the national level tend to focus only on specific academic skills that are unachievable for many disabled students.
Even among special educators, data on how well disabled students are doing is limited. For example, state-level special educators, long used to documenting the process of special education but not the results, often do not measure student achievement or any other outcomes of schooling for their students.
"There is now a lack of ability to say anything about the status of kids with disabilities within the larger system or even in [an individual] system,'' said Ken Olsen, a technical-assistance specialist at the Mid-South Regional Resource Center at the University of Kentucky who reviewed the outcomes. "We can't say how well we do.''
The recommendations by the national center attempt to plug that gap and to suggest more inclusive accountability measures by laying out some broad academic and life skills young people should gain from school.
Not often found on lists of educational outcomes, the life skills identified by the center include the ability to get along with others, to be responsible for one's self, and to successfully manage daily life.
Upon leaving school, the indicators say, students should be able to make "healthy lifestyle choices,'' to cope with stresses, and to volunteer in their communities, among other outcomes.
In the area of more traditional academic outcomes, the researchers state that all students should demonstrate competence in mathematics, reading, writing, and other academic areas.
They suggest, however, that a more inclusive way to measure those skills might be to determine the percentage of students who exhibit the competence needed in order to succeed in their "next environment.''
"For some kids, [that] could mean a college or university, but, for others, [it] could mean working at McDonald's or participating in some kind of job-skills training program,'' Mr. Ysseldyke said.
In that respect, he added, the center's list is compatible with some other, narrower student-achievement measures already in place.
'A Big Gap'
Whether regular educators will readily accept such outcomes, however, is an open question.
Most states and communities judge how well their schools are doing almost exclusively through academic measures. Measures of social and behavioral outcomes are harder to find.
"I think there'll be some difficulty,'' said Martin Orland, the associate director of analysis and reporting for the National Education Goals Panel.
The national education goals, for example, call for all students to enter school "ready to learn.'' Within systems that are geared toward academic measures of learning, however, finding ways to measure the nation's progress in meeting that goal has been difficult, according to Mr. Orland.
"I think there's a recognition [that measuring nonacademic factors is] a good thing to be able to do, but that's different from being able to accommodate it very easily,'' he said. "There's a big gap between what is proposed in these outcomes and current systems of measurement.''
Mr. Ysseldyke said the center is working on recommending ways educators can measure some of the more nontraditional outcomes listed in the report. Some of the data, he said, are already available from student records or from student surveys.
The list of outcomes and indicators is the first of several for the center. In the next few weeks, it will also unveil recommendations for what students should know and be able to do by grades 3 and 6 as well as post-school outcomes for students.
Copies of the 25-page document, "Educational Outcomes and Indicators for Students Completing School,'' are available for $8 each by writing: Publications Office, the National Center for Educational Outcomes, 350 Elliott Hall, 75 East River Rd., University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn. 55455.