Delaware Poised To Develop Standards, Assessments

By Robert Rothman — June 17, 1992 5 min read

Delaware officials are set to announce this week an unusual partnership involving local districts, the state, higher-education institutions, and businesses to set standards in key subjects and to develop assessments to measure student performance against the standards.

With the move, Delaware joins a growing number of states that are revamping their curricula and assessments with an eye toward improving student performance.

But the plan differs from other state efforts in that area in that it sets standards for teachers, as well as for students, and is funded by local districts, and is funded by local districts and businesses, as well as the state.

“One of the faults I see in American education is incoherence,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Pascal D,. Forgione Jr. “We’ve just not focused on coherence between teacher standards and student standards, what we measure in our assessments, and what we as teachers to do.”

But, he added, “the reality is that there is no new money.”

“If we’re going to create reform,” he continued, “the state needed to build a capacity” to sustain it.

Educators and business officials praised the plan and called it vital to raising student achievement.

But some cautioned that it would depend on increased funding at a time when Delaware, like many other states, faces a budget crunch. Future support for the plan is uncertain, said Maryann Galloway, the president of the Delaware State Education Association, since Gov. Michael N. Castle, a supporter of the plan, is not seeking re-election this fall.

“If there is not adequate financing, the necessary components won’t be in place to make it effective,” she said.

‘Personal Relationships’

Mr. Forgione, who assumed his post in December after serving as the executive director of the National Education Goals Panel, devised the standards-and-assessment plan following a ''barnstorming’’ tour that took him to more than 100 of Delaware’s 172 schools in his first 75 days in office.

“What they wanted was a vision and a plan,” Mr. Forgione said.

In many respects, Delaware’s small size eased the process of forming a diverse partnership, observed Charles E. Moses, the superintendent of the Milford School District.

“These are personal relationships,” he said. ''In a lot of states, superintendents never meet the presidents of universities. Here we do.”

Under the plan, known as New Directions for Education in Delaware, districts will provide $5 per pupil, which will be matched with $7 per pupil from the state and $12 per pupil from businesses. If all districts participate, the total funding would be $12 million over five years.

The private funds would go to create a new Delaware Education Research and Development Center at the University of Delaware, which is expected to provide ongoing independent policy research for the state education department, along the lines of the highly regarded Policy Analysis for California Education.

To ensure that there is a close link between the center and the department, the director of the center will serve as deputy state superintendent for policy analysis and research.

AI!. its first task, the new center will oversee the development of content and student-performance standards in four subject areas.

Beginning this spring, according to the plan, committees of teachers, subject-matter experts, and community leaders are to meet to consider standards. Standards in mathematics would be established by the spring of 1994; in science, by the fall of 1994; in English language arts, by the winter of 1995; and in social studies, by the spring of 1995.

The committees will include vocational- education and special-education teachers, Mr. Forgione said.

To illustrate the student-performance standards, he said, the research center will also maintain a bank of “polished stones,” or examples of high -quality work in the various subjects.

Frank B. Murray, the dean of the college of education at the University of Delaware, added that the standards would guide teacher education- both pre-service and in-service- as well as precollegiate instruction.

“You want to have cohesion among state policies,” he said. “We don’t have that now.”

New Assessment

In addition to overseeing the setting of standards, the research center and other higher-education institutions also will conduct research and development for new assessments. Initially, the state will replace its current tests with new assessments in English/language arts and in mathematics in 1993 for all students in grades 3, 5, 8, and 10.

Over the next five years, according to the plan, the state will phase in the implementation of performance- based assessments in each of the four key subjects. The program will be pilot-tested between 1995 and 1997 and is expected to be implemented fully in the 1997-98 school year.

The plan also calls for a new accountability system, which would require each school to demonstrate improvement in student performance against the standards. State officials have not yet decided, however, what rewards would be given to schools that exceeded the standards or what penalties would be imposed on those that failed to show improvement.

‘We Need a Focus’

Representatives of local districts and businesses praised the plan and said they were eager to contribute to it.

“Once you make a financial commitment, you have a commitment to seeing something fulfilled,” Mr. Moses of Milford said. “But I think we would have made a commitment regardless of the funding source.”

“We need standards,” he continued. “We need a focus. New Directions gives us a focus, rather than allowing everyone to go every which way.”

Lee C. Tashjian Jr., the executive assistant to the chairman of the board of directors of E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company, which is contributing $2 million to the effort, said the funds represent an investment in improving the workforce.

“If we are concerned and interested, as recipients of the products of schools,” Mr. Tashjian said, “we ought to do everything we can to improve the quality of the students coming out” of the schools.

A version of this article appeared in the June 17, 1992 edition of Education Week as Delaware Poised To Develop Standards, Assessments