Clinton Expected To Name Standards Board This Month
President Clinton is expected this month to name the members of a new board that could help shape standards for what students should know and be able to do and how they should be tested.
The National Education Standards and Improvement Council will give a stamp of approval to voluntary national standards and state standards and assessments that meet its criteria.
Congress created the board as part of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act to provide support and quality control for the dozens of standards-setting efforts now under way across the United States.
But how the board will operate is far from clear. States and national groups can choose whether or not to submit their standards to the board. They are unlikely to do so unless they have faith in the criteria and procedures it uses.
Last month, the Council of Chief State School Officers released its recommendations for how the board should function. The paper was presented at a meeting of the National Education Goals Panel, which shares responsibility with the new board for reviewing and certifying national and state standards and assessments.
The goals panel submitted its nominations for the 19-member board to President Clinton late last month. (See story, this page.) Congress and Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley are expected to submit their lists of names to the White House within the next few weeks.
In their report, the chiefs pointed out that the biggest factor affecting the impact of voluntary national standards will be whether states choose to use them. And they argued that the education-standards board should use the same basic criteria and procedures to certify both national and state standards.
In particular, the chiefs stressed, states should be free to submit standards for individual disciplines, mirroring the development of subject-area standards by national groups. They said the states should not have to submit all of their standards as a set.
That conflicts with a recommendation made to the goals panel earlier this year by an advisory group that it convened to offer advice on the criteria and processes for certifying standards.
In its report, "Promises To Keep,'' the group of scholars, business executives, and educators advocated that state standards be considered in sets. That way, the group argued, the board could determine if the standards would be adequate and feasible when implemented together, as they would be in schools.
But the chiefs said such a procedure could force states to wait until all national standards within a set had been certified before they could submit their own standards for review. Such a delay could create a barrier that is "neither necessary nor desirable,'' the chiefs argued.
The standards board is required by law to determine that state standards are at least as rigorous as the national ones it has certified for a subject.
In general, the chiefs said, the board's seal of approval should signify that standards are exemplary or represent "best practice,'' not just that they have met a minimum set of qualifications.
Certification should be a recognition of "outstanding quality,'' the chiefs said, "rather than a license to 'do business.'''
States and national projects should present examples of the kind of teaching and learning that the standards are meant to convey and of student performance that meets the standards, the chiefs said. The examples might include samples from student portfolios or performance examinations.
"We're really trying to come up with a way of looking at this that is inspiring rather than deadening to the field,'' explained Ramsay W. Selden, the director of the chiefs' state education-assessment center. "We want to create an approach that is generative and inspiring for the states and others who participate in it.''
The chiefs suggested a list of conditions that states or national groups should have to meet before submitting standards for review, as well as some criteria for judging the standards. For example, they advocated that any standards submitted to the board be developed through an open and public process.
Standards must also be "assessable,'' the chiefs said. They argued that standards are effective only if they are used with a "supportive and appropriate assessment system.''
The chiefs also advocated that standards be certified only if there was evidence they could be achieved and were already in use in a state or local district.
The chiefs also recommended that national groups be required to describe how their standards relate to those certified in other subjects.
In addition, the paper advocates flexibility in how standards are organized. Rather than certifying standards only in traditional subject-matter disciplines, it suggests, the board should also explore "other conceptual structures of knowledge.''
Some states, such as Florida and Vermont, are already developing standards that transcend traditional academic lines.
National Academy Study
But the chiefs did not address many of the questions the education-standards board will face, such as whether to certify more than one set of voluntary national standards per subject.
The National Academy of Education may take up such concerns as part of a new project financed by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The $25,000 grant will enable the academy, which includes some of the nation's most prominent education scholars, to prepare a paper on issues facing the new board. The academy will also consider whether it should conduct a long-term evaluation of the board's work.
"This is intended to provide constructive advice in the short run and thoughtful feedback, as the board goes along, about how it's doing,'' said Fritz Mosher, the director of a project on philanthropic strategies for the Carnegie Corporation. "This is a complicated, unprecedented process that's important. It's worth having many external looks at it.''
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is also expected to provide support for the project. Lorrie A. Shepard, a professor of education at the University of Colorado, and Milbrey McLaughlin, a professor of education at Stanford University, will co-chair the panel of about a dozen academicians, who met for the first time last month.