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N.G.A. Offering States Advice on 'Opportunity' Standards

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The National Governors' Association has offered states advice on developing "opportunity to learn'' standards for schools.

A paper issued at the governors' annual meeting in Tulsa, Okla., last month addresses one of the most contentious issues in creating a system of national standards and assessments for students: how to insure that schools provide all youngsters with the opportunity to meet the new, higher standards.

For the past year, the governors have fought attempts by Congress to prescribe how states should develop and use opportunity-to-learn standards.

"The governors strongly affirm that states, not the federal government, should assume the responsibility for creating an education-delivery system that enables all students to achieve high standards,'' the paper by the N.G.A.'s education task force states.

"As we challenge all students to meet these new expectations,'' it continues, "we must insure that no student is required to attend, year after year, a school that fails to improve its results for students.''

The recommendations of the task force provide guidance to the states, but are not official N.G.A. policy.

The development of new performance standards and assessments should not be delayed until opportunity-to-learn standards are in place, the paper contends.

"The fundamental issue is the opportunity to learn 'what,''' it suggests.

'Corrective Action' Urged

The report also notes, however, that even before states develop the standards, they can begin to aid schools with high concentrations of students who drop out or who are performing at low levels on current tests.

The task force also stresses that schools should have the flexibility to determine how best to improve student learning and then be held accountable for the results.

Multiple measures of student performance--including graduation rates and achievement--should be reported at the end of elementary, middle, and high school by sex, race, and socioeconomic status, the paper suggests.

When schools do not improve, the paper argues, "corrective action should be taken on behalf of the students in the school.''

Such strategies might include contracting out school services or enabling children to attend charter schools, magnet schools, or other schools within a district, the report indicates, adding that state assistance and takeovers of failing schools should also be considered.

The governors also suggest that states improve teaching and learning in each school through the use of internal and external peer reviews, the preparation of school portfolios that include actual student work, the identification of best practices, and professional development.

Most of the N.G.A. meeting was devoted to the topic of health care, with an eye to influencing the reform plan to be unveiled by President Clinton this month.

In addition, the governors adopted a policy asking federal agencies to give schools the flexibility needed to offer health and welfare services on site. The policy, part of a resolution on education, asks for waivers that would let states merge funds from federal health and welfare programs.

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