A.F.T. Reports Seek To Define 'World-Class Standards'
Releasing a sampler of science examinations taken by prospective college students in several foreign countries, the American Federation of Teachers last week launched a series of reports aimed at defining "world-class standards'' in education.
The document, titled "What College-Bound Students Are Expected To Know About Biology,'' was released at a joint news conference held here by the A.F.T. and the Washington-based National Center for Improving Science Education.
The report, which is said to be the first to make available to a general audience the actual questions posed to college-bound students in foreign countries, contains sample exams from England and Wales, France, Germany, and Japan. The College Board's Advanced Placement biology test is included as a comparison.
Senta Raizen, the director of the science-education center, said the report provides teachers and policymakers with a glimpse of what world-class standards mean in actual practice.
Hammering Out Standards
She added that the document will be valuable to national, state, and local officials as they strive to hammer out the national standards that are a centerpiece of the Clinton Administration's Goals 2000 program.
"If we want to know what world-class standards are, we have to know what everybody else is doing,'' Albert Shanker, the president of the A.F.T., added.
Officials said copies of the first report have been made available to experts at the National Academy of Sciences, who are developing standards for science content, teaching, and assessment.
Ms. Raizen said teachers should also be an important audience for the document because it will help them decide if what they are teaching is as challenging as the content that foreign students are expected to master.
The foreign tests cited in the book are more closely aligned with the curriculum taught in schools in those countries than similar exams are in the United States, Ms. Raizen noted.
Both Mr. Shanker and Ms. Raizin argued that the tests are a good barometer of the stringent content that college-bound students in those nations are required to learn.
"Unlike our international peers, we do not expect our students to master difficult subject matter,'' Mr. Shanker said. "The result, not surprisingly, is that our students don't.''
A major difference between the U.S. and foreign education systems highlighted in the report, Mr. Shanker pointed out, is the large percentages of foreign students who take and pass the exams.
Between 30 percent and 50 percent of students abroad take rigorous exams like the ones included in the report, and between 25 percent and 36 percent of all students pass the tests.
But, Mr. Shanker noted, only 7 percent of U.S. students take the Advanced Placement biology test, and only 4 percent pass it.
The report maintains that the high stakes attributed to success on the rigorous exams in other countries provide students with an incentive to work hard in school.
Mr. Shanker conceded, however, that many countries in the past used such exams to screen students and effectively bar many from pursuing higher education.
But in recent years, he said, a wave of educational "democratization'' has swept many nations, which have implemented policies aimed at preparing larger numbers of students to meet high academic standards.
In the United States, on the other hand, the response to poor student performance more often has been to lower standards, Mr. Shanker argued.
Copies of the report (item #250) are available for $10 each from the A.F.T. Order Department, 555 New Jersey Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001.