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Published in Print: June 23, 2004, as Audit Gives High Marks To Georgia Performance Standards

Audit Gives High Marks To Georgia Performance Standards

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The Georgia education department, led by Superintendent Kathy B. Cox, has the drive to make the state’s new performance standards a high-quality document that teachers will find useful and effective in their classrooms, concludes a new audit of the state curriculum.

The standards—which are still in the final stages of development—are rigorous and in line with national standards, the independent audit says. Unveiled last week, it reaches a dramatically different verdict from the previous review of the state standards.

Still, the audit says, some confusion remains over the purpose of the standards, and officials have set for themselves a too-ambitious timeline for training teachers.

"It is a huge project, it has accomplished much, and it will continue to accomplish still more," the report says. "The final quality of the Georgia Performance Standards system will hinge in large part on the commitment of the state [school] board and the citizenry to provide the support, resources, time, and assistance needed to complete this highly ambitious, enormous, and important work."

In fact, at the time the audit was conducted, the team found that the teacher-training schedule did not meet the standards set by the National Staff Development Council. The "rollout" plan did not allow enough time for teachers to actually change their behavior

The review was conducted in April by the Curriculum Management Center in Johnston, Iowa, an affiliate of Phi Delta Kappa International, a professional association for educators. The audit, headed by William Poston, a professor emeritus of education at Iowa State University in Ames, was commissioned by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, a business-led group focused on improving student performance in the state.

Even though revision of the standards is still taking place, and the state board is not expected to vote on pieces of the document until later this summer and fall, Stephen Dolinger, the president of the partnership, had called for the audit in order to make the final document even stronger.

"Overall, this report shows that we’re on the right track," Mr. Dolinger said last week.

Kathy B. Cox

The challenge now, he added, is to find a balance between the need to give teachers ample time to absorb the new curriculum and the demands of lawmakers to improve test scores quickly.

Drafts of the curriculum—along with Ms. Cox herself—have attracted considerable attention this year because of a series of controversial proposals, including her recommendation to remove the word "evolution" from the science standards and her plan to move the study of the Civil War from the high school level to the middle grades. Ms. Cox, a teacher who was elected to the state chief’s post in 2002, later retreated from her position on the use of "evolution" and, by most accounts, has been open to constructive criticism. ("Ga. ‘Boss of Schools’ Weathers Setbacks," May 12, 2004.)

‘Different Relationships’

PDK conducted its first audit of Georgia’s curriculum in 2001 when Linda C. Schrenko was the schools chief. Mr. Poston, who led that auditing team as well, found the document—called the Quality Core Curriculum—to be bulky, lacking rigor, and out of alignment with national standards.

The auditors also encountered a state education department in conflict, with frosty relationships between the superintendent, the state board of education, and the governor. Ms. Schrenko was in the midst of an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination to run against then-Gov. Roy Barnes in the 2002 gubernatorial election. Following the audit, Ms. Schrenko authorized a revision process, but when she left office, most of that work ended.

This time, according to the new audit, there is a "remarkably different set of working relationships and governance spirit among parties found to be operating in discord three years ago."

While Ms. Schrenko viewed the previous audit, in part, as a political attack against her, Ms. Cox, who is also a Republican, has welcomed the process. She said during an interview this spring that the external review was a critical part of redesigning the document.

Department officials say that partly in response to the auditors’ recommendations to slow down the implementation, they’ve already delayed the state board’s formal adoption of the standards to allow more time for public feedback and work on the standards, especially in social studies.

Stuart Bennett, the department’s chief deputy, added that even though the development process might seem hurried, the estimated time to phase in all the standards and assessments is seven years.

Kirk Englehardt, a department spokesman, added that the PDK audit is just one of three reviews by outside groups. "We’ll take it all and roll it all in," he said.

The results of the audit come on the heels of an unexpected rise in Georgia’s student test scores, announced this month. More than 90 percent of 3rd graders passed the state reading test on the first try-an increase of 6 percentage points from 2002, when the test was last given. Achievement gains were also noted in other grades and subjects.

Vol. 23, Issue 41, Page 27

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