Education Department Developing New Measures of Schools
Washington--In an attempt to sustain the current wave of education reform, several divisions of the Education Department are developing a new publication that will provide the public with a means of assessing the schools' progress, using a wide array of indicators of the resources that go into schooling and the outcomes they produce.
The development of the proposed "educational-indicators" publication comes at a time when state leaders say they anticipate increasing pressure from the public to provide proof that multimillion-dollar school-reform projects set in place in recent years are yielding positive results.
The project also follows on the heels of a controversial Education Department initiative last fall that provided state-by-state comparisons of such educational characteristics as Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, per-pupil expenditures, and dropout rates. Interviews with those working on the new project suggest, however, that a somewhat different range of indicators of educational progress will be included in the proposed publication.
The publication--the first version of which may be ready for distribution by ear-ly next year--"is intended to help educators and policymakers make more informed decisions and to help the public understand progress in and the condition of American education," explained Emerson J. Elliott, administrator of the National Center for Education Statistics and a member of the department's working group on the project.
"The idea is to inform reform," he continued. "If you keep the issues before the public, reform will be self-sustaining."
According to Ronald Hall, a senior policy analyst in the Office of the Undersecretary of Education and a member of the department's working group, the list of specific indicators that the group plans to include in the publication "practically changes from Continued on Page XX
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day to day." However, tentative agreement has been reached on several broad categories of indicators, he added.
Among the categories are: student performance; "transitions" from one level of education to another or from education to the workplace; fiscal, human, and material resources; perceptions of schools; school environment; student characteristics; and state governance.
Although most of the indicators will focus mainly on educational progress at the state and national levels, several will compare how the American system of schooling is faring against systems in other countries, Mr. Hall said.
Differs From Predecessors
Mr. Elliott said the new publication would be quite different from nces's mainstay annual publications, The Condition of Education and Digest of Education Statistics.
"The Condition of Education views itself as describing education," Mr. Elliott said. "It doesn't force itself to say, 'What does this tell me about the health of American education?"'
In addition, he said, The Condition of Education contains information "that happens to be available from year to year."
"What distinguishes this publication is that we are beginning not by asking, 'What do we have to report?' but rather by asking, 'What do we need to know?"'
More significantly, Mr. Elliott added, the nature of the data needed to make the new publication meaningful "could force changes in the research agendas" of the nces and the National Institute of Education.
Most of the data that the department plans to use in the first version of the publication "are out there, but some have been [gathered] on a one-time-only basis," he said. Because "the notion of the indicators project is that this is something the public would follow from year to year," he explained, the research agencies would have to begin collecting certain types of data on a year-by-year basis that are now gathered either sporadically or not at all. The frequency and schedule of the publication are yet to be determined.
Project Begun in 1982
According to Mr. Hall, the project was conceived by nces officials in early 1982 when the agency approached the Educational Leaders Consortium, a group consisting of the executive directors of 16 Washington-based education organizations, and requested that they draft a list of indicators of educational progress that their organizations' members might find useful.
"The project didn't move much until the period of reform began last year," Mr. Hall said. "It then came to the attention of [Undersecretary of Education Gary L.] Jones, who saw it as one of several ways that nces could follow up on reform activity across the country."
The next step in the project's development, he said, was the formation of an ad-hoc group of officials from nces; nie; the department's office of planning, budget, and eval-uation; and the National Commission on Excellence in Education. It was during the early meetings of the group last March that "the notion of developing the educational-indicators publication emerged," Mr. Hall said.
Mr. Elliott said he expected that the new publication would be greeted with enthusiasm by many state officials.
"One of the present phenomena in education is that we have suddenly captured the interest of almost every state legislator and governor," he said. "As a result, they are asking state education officials very different questions about education than they did in the past.
"One state chief recently told me that he went before a legislative committee and was asked, 'If Georgia is doing this particular thing, why aren't we?"' Mr. Elliott continued. "That's quite a change from the past. People are now asking for new kinds of information. Before they only wanted to know what we were spending. Now they want to know what are we achieving."
In a related development, the policy committee of the National Assessment of Educational Progress was expected to make a final decision last weekend on a controversial plan to modify the national assessment sotudents' test scores can be compared on a state-by-state basis. (See Education Week, Aug. 22, 1984.)