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Littleton Drops Performance-Based Graduation Requirements

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The Littleton, Colo., school board voted last week to return to traditional graduation requirements for students at Littleton High School.

The 3-to-2 vote ends the school's performance-based graduation system, which required students to demonstrate proficiency on a variety of tasks in order to receive a diploma. To graduate from the school now, students will have to pass a series of required courses.

The performance-based system was killed by school board members elected last fall on a promise to return the schools to "traditional education.'' Critics of the system also faulted the assessments used to measure student performance.

The vote does not mean, however, that performance assessments will no longer be used at the school, whose work in developing the new measures has drawn national attention. (See Education Week, April 22, 1992.)

"We are free to continue to teach to and to administer the performance-based assessments in regular coursework for grades for students, and we are continuing to do that,'' Tim Westerberg, Littleton High's principal, said.

The board's vote, which came after attempts to find a compromise between the two graduation systems failed, is nevertheless a blow, the principal added.

"I'm very disappointed,'' he said. "We're well on our way to accomplishing very significant educational advancement for high school education, not only at Littleton but that might serve other schools across the nation. That program has definitely been weakened.''

Compromise Attempt Falls

Littleton High's program, called Direction 2000, replaced coursework requirements with a set of 19 "learner outcomes,'' which students were to master in order to graduate. The school then developed a system of assessments to measure students' attainment of the abilities.

Under the compromise that had been considered, students would have been given performance assessments in their classes. They would have been able to choose whether their work would be graded and used in a credit-based graduation system or added to a portfolio for a performance-based system.

Bill Cisney, a school board member who voted to return to the traditional graduation requirements, said the compromise was not "politically viable.''

"What it did was it left all the students in a program that would have been guided by the principles of performance-based education,'' he said.

Students who are juniors this year would have been the first to earn diplomas under Littleton's performance requirements. Now, because some of those students have not taken courses that will be required under the credit-based graduation requirements, they will need to be given waivers. Students who could demonstrate proficiency, for example, could elect not to take courses such as 9th-grade English, Mr. Westerberg said.

Some of the objections to the performance-based graduation requirements stemmed from technical questions about the assessments. Mr. Cisney has argued repeatedly that the assessments were not of sufficient quality to be used to determine something as important as graduation.

The school board voted last month to put a moratorium on the further development of desired outcomes for students and related assessments. Mr. Westerberg said that field-testing and technical work on assessments at Littleton High would be stopped.

Mr. Cisney said he expects the school board to develop a policy on assessments that will eventually allow further work to continue.

The school district also may explore ways to recognize students' performance on the assessments in other ways, officials said, including a diploma "endorsement.''

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