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Littleton, Colo., May Not Ditch Assessments After All

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After weeks of contentious meetings packed with as many as 700 people, the Littleton, Colo., school board is reconsidering its plan to abolish Littleton High School's performance-based graduation requirements.

The school board, three of whose members were elected as a slate last November promising to return the schools to "traditional education,'' had intended to require that students at Littleton's three high schools complete a specified number of Carnegie units to graduate.

But in recent weeks, members have been deluged with protests from supporters of Littleton High's program, called Direction 2000. In order to graduate, students must demonstrate proficiency in 19 "competencies'' on a variety of performance assessments.

The school board was scheduled to vote this week on a compromise plan that would offer Littleton High students a choice between Carnegie units and performance assessments. Last week, the board voted to restore traditional graduation requirements at the district's other two high schools.

"We're trying to come up with a win-win situation where we can evaluate what's going on in outcome-based education without subjecting the entire district to it,'' said John Fanchi, a newly elected board member who proposed the plan.

The district, in suburban Denver, has been a leader in the use of new assessments for students. (See Education Week, April 22, 1992.)

'Serious Questions'

Supporters of Direction 2000, while saying they would welcome a compromise that would preserve the program, said last week that they had serious reservations about the "dual diploma'' option.

"Are we talking about dual instruction, or talking about just a dual-measurement system?'' asked Jack Ballard, a school board member who supports performance-based graduation requirements.

Details of the compromise were still being worked out last week.

Part of the debate on the performance-based requirements stems from the fact that students might not graduate from high school in four years if they do not master all of the required competencies.

Mr. Fanchi said he had proposed requiring that students who choose the performance-based option take a certain number of Carnegie units, with the option of waiving some requirements. But if students failed to graduate in four years under the performance-assessment system, they would be required to take the courses needed to graduate under a traditional Carnegie plan, he said.

Under Direction 2000, such students would have undergone the performance assessments again.

Another option that has been discussed would require each grade level to have a certain percentage of students participate in Direction 2000 in order for the performance option to be offered.

Karen Kaplan, a board member who supports the performance-based assessments, said the compromise "looks like traditional Carnegie units with assessments.''

"I am convinced we need to graduate students only when we are sure that they are able to do what they need to do,'' she said.

Meanwhile, the board's three member majority has voted to scrap all work in the district on developing learning outcomes for students, refining assessments, and training staff members, Ms. Kaplan said.

Demoralized Teachers

The "philosophical shift'' in the community that led to the election results last fall, she added, has destroyed the collaborative culture in the district and led to an atmosphere of fear.

Teachers who have worked hard to create the new assessments and restructure their classrooms are demoralized, said James Anderson, a music teacher at Littleton High.

"I told the board, 'If you take away performance-based graduation requirements, you will see a decline in morale, respect, dedication, and energy the likes of which this district has not seen,''' he said.

Freshmen, sophomores, and juniors at Littleton High have been studying under the performance-based requirements, which would have yielded the first crop of graduates next year.

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