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Published in Print: February 28, 2001, as Business Group Urges Sticking With Standards

Business Group Urges Sticking With Standards

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States should stay the course in the standards and accountability movement, a leading business group recommends, because the effort is starting to show results after more than a decade of work.

For More Information

The report, "Measuring What Matters," is available from the Committee for Economic Development. (Requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader.)

While not all the pieces of the puzzle are perfectly in place, the Committee for Economic Development says in a report released last week, the early returns from new testing systems are spurring changes that lead to improved student learning.

"Just the information alone is having a tremendous effect about the way we think about education in this country," Janet S. Hansen, the Washington-based business group's vice president for education policy, said at a news conference held here to release the report. "It gives us the basis for conversation, more than just sort of an ad hoc, nongeneralizable, personal feeling about whether [the quality of] education is good or bad."

The next step will be in honing the systems so that they are fair ways to reward high-performing schools and teachers, and properly identifying students who need help, according to the CED's "Measuring What Matters: Using Assessment and Accountability To Improve Student Learning."

"Our central recommendation is that tests should be used and improved now—rather than resisted until they are perfect—because they provide the best means of charting our progress toward the goal of improved academic achievement," the report contends.

Hot Issue

The committee, whose members include Fortune 500 executives, academic leaders, and high-technology entrepreneurs, enters the standards and accountability arena as the issue is rising in prominence on Capitol Hill.

President Bush has proposed that states participating in federal education programs be required to assess student learning every year in grades 3-8 as a way of measuring school effectiveness. Some Democrats, led by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, have responded with their own accountability measures, ensuring that the topic will be at the center of debate this year.

"There's a lot of congruence between what they're recommending and what we're talking about," Charles E.M. Kolb, the CED's president and a former domestic-policy adviser in the first Bush administration, said of the White House and Democratic proposals.

As the debate takes place, the CED's statement sends an important signal to lawmakers that the business community is fully behind accountability measures, according to Matthew Gandal, the vice president of Achieve, a Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit group led by business executives and governors that promotes standards-based initiatives.

"This shows the business community is committed long-term to getting this right," Mr. Gandal said. "They're trying to get into more depth as to why assessment is so crucial in education reform."

Perfecting Assessments

In the next stage of the accountability movement, the CED says, states need to take a variety of steps, mostly to improve the tests themselves.

The assessments need to be reviewed to ensure that they are aligned with states' academic standards, the report says, while teachers need to be taught how to review test data to help them improve their teaching.

In addition, the report argues that accountability systems be based on the results of several assessments and emphasize schools' growth across several years, rather than comparing schools' performance with one another's.

The report also urges business leaders to insist that high school transcripts include a student's test scores. And it suggests that states carefully experiment with teacher pay-for-performance plans.

Essentially, the CED report reaffirms what representatives of the business community said at a 1999 summit of governors, business executives, and education leaders. Attendees at the two-day meeting—held to mark the 10th anniversary of the national education summit in Charlottesville, Va., out of which the current standards movement grew—issued a statement urging policymakers to review their standards and assessments carefully and expand standards-based initiatives to include pay- for-performance plans for teachers. ("Teaching Tops Agenda at Summit," Oct. 6, 1999.)

CED officials acknowledged that their proposals to improve tests in order to stimulate significant improvements in student achievement would require an infusion of money to be successful.

"One of the things that has held [such improvements] back," Ms. Hansen said, "is financial."

Vol. 20, Issue 24, Page 10

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