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Survey Seeks To Identify 'Essential' Standards

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Federally funded researchers hope to complete by the end of this school year a survey that identifies what the public thinks are "essential" academic standards outlining what students should know and be able to do.

The aim for researchers at the Mid-Continent Regional Educational Laboratory in Aurora, Colo., is to figure out which are the most broadly accepted and crucial of the 201 standards and 3,291 benchmarks it has in a database compiled from the scores of national and state standards projects.

"Someone has to decide what's essential and what's not essential," Robert J. Marzano, a deputy director of the lab, said last week.

Many educators and policymakers have been critical of the national and state standards developed for the various subjects because they have not been pared down to what educators believe can reasonably be taught.

To produce a more useful list, the researchers are seeking the public's help. Mr. Marzano said his lab was negotiating with the Gallup Organization of Princeton, N.J., about conducting the survey.

When the survey is complete, the set of "essential" standards and benchmarks might be called the "consensus national standards and benchmarks," Mr. Marzano said, because they will have been identified first by experts in the subject areas, arranged into similar formats by the regional lab, and then selected by the public nationwide as vital.

The project is part of a four-part, multiyear research effort on standards, assessment, and instruction now under way at the lab, Mr. Marzano said. The overall endeavor, which builds on earlier work done at the lab, is expected to cost about $1.5 million over the next three years. The lab's funding from the U.S. Department of Education will pay for the project.

Another aspect of the work will be to identify the most effective performance assessments and construct examples of how they are used nationwide. Performance assessment, such as portfolios and essays, asks students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

The researchers also hope to compile a database of performance-assessment activities and plan to analyze research findings to figure out the most effective teaching methods for specific content areas and types of learners.

No Duplication Seen

The Mid-Continent lab's work appears to cover several of the announced goals of the new national organization Achieve. A proposed resource center on standards-based reform, Achieve is the brainchild of the nation's governors and many leading business executives. ("'Entity' Has New Name and $5 Million in Support," Oct. 23, 1996.)

But Patricia F. Sullivan, the director of education legislation at the National Governors' Association, which has been shepherding Achieve's creation, said last week that Achieve will not duplicate current efforts. She said it could act as a cheerleader and bring more resources to such work.

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