College Board Encouraged To Press on With Curriculum Initiative

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New York--Practicing educators praised the College Board, at its annual meeting here last week, for providing a sensible approach to educational reform, and they challenged the organization to continue pressing for a high-school curriculum that develops students' competencies as well as their knowledge of specific subjects.

The board--which oversees the country's largest standardized-testing programs, including the Scholastic Aptitude Tests, the Achievement Tests, and the Advanced Placement tests for high-school students--is a membership organization of more than 2,500 colleges, schools, school systems, and education associations.

Preparation for College

Last year, the board published "Academic Preparation for College: What Students Need To Know And Be Able To Do," in which it recommended that all college-bound students demonstrate "basic learning" in key fields of study and mastery of a set of "basic academic competencies'' before they advance to college.

The publication was developed as part of the organization's 10-year ''EQuality Project," begun in 1980 to strengthen the quality of education in high school and to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to extend their education beyond high school. The report was developed with the input of educators throughout the country.

At the time of its release, College Board officials described the report, with its goal-oriented approach to curriculum development, as a substantial departure from educators' current policies on academic standards. The board has stated that it had no desire to develop a national curriculum, or to provide more than suggestions for individual schools and school districts.

Sequels Planned

The board plans to publish six sequels to the book this February that will provide classroom teachers with advice about how to improve their instructional methods and curriculum in the areas of English, the arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and foreign language.

Participants at the conference urged the board to continue to integrate the academic competencies that were identified in the book with teaching in the subject areas. They also suggested that major revisions in the content of high-school classes would be necessary to achieve the book's goals.

"We are overdue for some major revisions in the way we teach our students," said John U. Munro, professor of writing at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. "Traditional courses simply have no relevance to life or reality as students know it."

Focus on Competencies

The basic academic competencies identified by the board--reading, writing, speaking and listening, mathematics, reasoning, studying, and observing--provide an "alternative to the 'pile-it-higher-and-deeper response"' to educational reform, which emphasizes more credits and more course requirements for students, said Mary Rus-sell, executive director for secondary instruction of the Spring Branch Independent School District in Texas.

In her own school district, Ms. Russell encouraged teachers to examine how they were addressing each of the seven competencies within their subject areas. She found that "speaking" was considered the sole domain of the speech teacher; "studying" was something that students were expected to develop on their own; and "listening was nobody's job."

Focus on Skills Urged

All teachers should pay more attention to listening, speaking, and observing, she and others agreed.

For example, foreign languages should focus more on oral communication and less on grammar, said Raul S. Rodriguez, chairman of the language department at Xaverian High School in Brooklyn, N.Y. "Don't tell the students participation counts and oral speaking counts, and then base your marks on written tests, period," he said.

Genelle Moraine, professor of language education at the University of Georgia at Athens, noted that visual communication is influenced by how the culture teaches people to perceive. In a shrinking world, American students must learn to interpret "environmental language" and "body language," she said, and to understand the special meanings that societies have attached to colors, designs, and objects.

Rethink Content

Participants also suggested that educators need to pare down and reorganize the high-school curriculum.

"We haven't really figured out what is to be learned," said Michael Timpane, president of Teachers College, Columbia University. He argued that a continually expanding curriculum has resulted in students who are "idiot savants who know a very little bit about almost everything."

"We need to stop being all things to all people," agreed Robert R. Spillane, superintendent of the Boston public schools. Reading, writing, and arithmetic must remain the central goals of "a well-rounded solid education that is fundamental in nature," he said.

But while Mr. Spillane was more concerned that students learn to read than with what they read, others said that the two are--or should be--inseparable.

"We had a period where we really didn't talk about content," said Bill Honig, California's superintendent of public instruction. "I don't think that works. If we have something important to say to students ... then we should ensure that the curriculum they get reflects that.''

He noted that in California, the content of the English curriculum is being redesigned statewide through the development of a core list of 400 to 500 books.

Larry Uzzell, president of Learn Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., lamented the fact that the College Board no longer publishes a list of books that all students should read, as it did in 1901.

He also noted that attempts to make education "value-free" have resulted in the "most bland, lifeless school books in the history of American education."

Adapt Tests

Educators attending the meeting generally agreed that tests developed by the board, such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test and the various achievement tests, as well as local competency tests, will have to change to reflect the new curriculum. But they noted that such changes are a long way off.

Tests will remain influential because the public wants them, said Mary Frances Berry, member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and professor of history and law at Howard University.

Both she and Mr. Munro noted that heavy emphasis is placed on the sat's, which they contended are achievement tests as much as aptitude tests. To assist low-income and minority students to do well on the tests, they suggested that schools or the College Board develop curricula that "fit" with the sat's and provide in-school coaching and tutoring. It would be fairer to poor and minority students than assuming that they will learn what they need for these tests in other ways, they said.

New Commission

In other action at the annual meeting, College Board officials announced the establishment of a 21-member commission of educators and business leaders to conduct a "comprehensive review" of precollegiate guidance and counseling services that would include recommendations for improving their quality and availability.

According to George H. Hanford, president of the board, the commission is intended to address "the widespread concern" that guidance and counseling activities "have been given far too little attention" in the reports on education reform.

The commission, which will conduct its study over the next two years, will be chaired by Harold Howe 2nd, senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and former U.S. commissioner of education.

As part of its study, the commission will hold discussion sessions around the country on the nature of precollege guidance and counseling in schools and how what is now available can be improved.

Merit Scholarships

At the meeting, the College Board also released preliminary results from a new study of no-need financial aid that looked at the college choices of 2,000 high-school seniors who were in the top 20 percent of their high-school classes.

The study found that college offers of no-need financial aid have little influence on which college a student ultimately chooses to attend, according to the researchers, Randall G. Chapman, associate professor of marketing at the University of Alberta, Canada, and Rex Jackson, president of Applied Educational Research Inc. in Princeton, N.J.

The students were surveyed last March before they had picked their colleges, and again in May. "The preferences that students stated in March, before the aid offers were known, were very highly predictive of what they were going to do. It was by far the most important factor," said Mr. Jackson.

The researchers found that although the cost of the college and the financial aid offered did affect students' choices, "that effect was3very modest in relation to college preference."

Only 39 percent of the 1,183 students who had applied to and were accepted by two or more colleges chose to attend a college that had not been their top choice in March. Half of these students cited the cost of a particular college or the availability of financial aid as a reason for choosing a college lower on their list, said Mr. Jackson.

If a student had a difficult choice between two colleges, an extra $1,000 grant would only increase his or her chances of picking a particular school by 4 percent, the researcher noted.

He concluded that "it would be apparently a very costly strategy for institutions to try to change students' minds by offering them scholarships." It just does not make a decisive enough difference, he said.

Vol. 04, Issue 10

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