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K-12, Higher-Ed. Officials Join To Rebuild Calif. Standards

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California's top higher-education and K-12 school officials said last week that they will work together to build a replacement for the state's system of standards and assessment that was ditched last year.

The partnership, announced at a Sacramento press conference, will aim to build consensus among top precollegiate educators and their university and college colleagues on high school graduation standards and a program for assessing student performance.

The partnership is a historic accomplishment for the 15-year-old California Education Round Table--an organization of state education leaders from the California Department of Education, California State University, the University of California, the state's community-college system, and other higher-education officials.

Delaine Eastin, the state schools superintendent, said the agreement was a "real decision to link arms."

Some state education observers were doubtful that the new partnership would have a significant impact, but most welcomed higher education's entry into the state's decade-old movement for standards-based school reform.

"Higher education is coming to the issue fairly late," said Patrick Callan, the executive director of the San Jose-based California Higher Education Policy Center. But the partnership "has the potential to bring another actor to the table who could make a serious contribution."

Starting Over

California is considered a national leader in the movement for standards-based reform. But its testing system, the California Learning Assessment System, was dealt a mortal blow when Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed its extension last year, only a year after its introduction.

The announcement of the new partnership comes on the heels of the legislature's approval this fall of a new testing system aimed to address concerns about the CLAS tests' accuracy and potential invasion of student privacy. (See Education Week, Oct. 4, 1995.)

Gov. Wilson signed the new system into law last month. The new tests will measure students against statewide academic standards, which will be drafted by a 21-member commission and approved by the state school board.

Under the new partnership, task forces composed of educators from both K-12 schools and higher education will recommend standards for mathematics and English skills, two areas where California students have tested poorly in recent years.

The task forces will pass their work on to the standards commission, whose members have not yet been named, and the state board.

Consistent Expectations

Officials said collaboration was needed to address the growing crisis in California's K-12 system, highlighted recently by the poor test results and sudden policy shifts by the public college systems. Last spring, results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress ranked California 4th graders last in reading among 39 states.

Also, California State University is considering a proposal to phase out its remedial program over the next five years. Roughly half of the system's incoming students require remedial instruction. (See Education Week, Nov. 1, 1995.)

The University of California board of regents, meanwhile, voted over the summer to end affirmative action in admissions, a move that could dramatically change that system's student-enrollment pool.

Faced with tangled program and policy dilemmas, officials agreed on the need to find consensus on the expectations of K-12 schools for their graduates and the expectations of colleges for their incoming freshmen.

"We have to be consistent in what we ask of students in all segments of education,"said Barry Munitz, the chancellor of the California State University system.

The partnership's work on standards is part of a five-point agreement in which the state's top education officials also pledged to collaborate on initiatives to strengthen teacher preparation, better use technology, and mobilize community and professional resources for learning.

"It's the first time that there has been a comprehensive request for involvement by higher education in the development of standards, the measures to assess student performance, and the training of teachers," Mr. Munitz said.

But whether the agreement is truly historic depends on whether it produces results, said Mr. Callan of the Higher Education Policy Center.

"I want to be positive about these kind of things, but we have a history of these big PR events here in California," he said.

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