States' School Boards Urged To Stay Course on Tougher Standards
State boards of education can help bolster student achievement in grades K-12 and improve teacher-preparation programs by providing challenging standards, meaningful assessments, and effective accountability measures on both fronts, argue two reports released last week.
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Such systems will only work, however, if they are designed with input from those working in K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities, according to the reports by the National Association of State Boards of Education.
Released at the association's annual conference in St. Louis, the reports aim to offer guidance for state education leaders inundated with demands for change.
The first of the studies, "Failure Is Not an Option: The Next Stage of Education Reform," instructs officials to "stay the course" with standards-driven improvements to their states' education systems. The study urges state school leaders to resist pressures to view the debate over increasing academic standards as a choice between promoting unprepared students to the next grade or holding them back. Both social promotion and retention are quick fixes that are unlikely to bring about lasting gains in student achievement, the report says.
"Policies and programs need to be adopted that both prevent social promotion and also relegate retention to an option of last resort," the study says. "Low-achieving students continue to be low achievers after being promoted, while most retained students never catch up with their peers."
States can avert many K-12 problems by providing universal preschool programs integrated with social and health services, the report argues. Other suggestions include: providing local districts and schools the flexibility to structure curriculum, craft instructional practices, and manage classroom time; allocating state aid for high-quality professional development for teachers; and restructuring high schools to fit the needs of all students.
At the same time, states need to set high standards for students and integrate them into the curriculum, continually monitor student progress, and provide intervention and support services should students stumble, the report says. School administrators and staff members should also be held accountable for student progress, it adds.
"Standards drive the process, but how well each level of governance provides support for students to achieve those standards ultimately determines whether both social promotion and retention will be avoided," it says.
'Work in Progress'
A spokesman for many of the nation's largest urban school districts said last week that he agreed with the report's advice to "stay the course" on standards-based reform.
"This is a work in progress," said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Washington- based Council of the Great City Schools. "A lot of standards have not been in place very long."
Student achievement depends on teaching, and it is, therefore, vital that state boards of education help strengthen and align teacher-preparation and -licensure programs with rising state standards, a second report from the association contends.
"It is the role of the state to lead a K-16 institutional collaboration that ensures all teachers can bring students to high levels of learning," says the report, "The Full Circle: Building a Coherent Teacher-Preparation System."
But that often is not the reality, it says. State governance systems too often do not consult precollegiate educators or higher education institutions when drawing plans to evaluate teacher-preparation programs and licensure systems, it says.
Such suggestions are not new, but are often dismissed by the professionals they address, said Shari L. Francis, a vice president for state relations for the Washington-based National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. She observed NASBE's discussions in preparing the report, but did not participate in writing it.
Many people have called for revamping teacher-preparation programs and licensure but realize that tougher standards for new entrants into the profession could make it harder to tackle teacher shortages, Ms. Francis noted.
"We need not only money for teacher-preparation programs, but money for teacher salaries," she said. Higher salaries would draw new talent, she said.
Vol. 20, Issue 7, Page 15