Standards Council Splits Over Guidelines For School

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WASHINGTON--The National Council on Education Standards and Testing, which has agreed to propose national standards for what students should know and be able to do, divided sharply last week over whether to recommend national guidelines for what schools should do to ensure students can meet the standards.

The Congressionally mandated panel of educators and policy-makers, meeting here last week, agreed that schools and school systems, as well as students, should be held accountable for meeting the new standards.

To accomplish that goal, a task force of the council proposed that the panel recommend "delivery standards," which would outline criteria for establishing a school system's "capacity and performance in educating all students in the subject matter set out in the content standards."

"Are districts, states, and the nation providing [students] an opportunity to learn?" asked Marshall S. Smith, the dean of the graduate school of education at Stanford University and the chairman of the task force. "That's the fundamental premise on which to base a fair and equitable system."

But Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. of South Carolina, the co- chairman of the national council, objected to the proposal. He said such standards amounted to national guidelines on "inputs," rather than student outcomes, and would stifle schools' creativity in finding ways to help students meet the standards.

"What you're talking about," he said, "is going back to a system where we tell [states] how to do it from an input standpoint. That scares me."

"I agree we have to say a school has to" provide students an opportunity to learn the content, Governor Campbell said. "But we have to be very careful about what we prescribe, or we put teachers in a box."

After the panel divided nearly evenly on the issue during a closed working lunch, Governor Campbell proposed a compromise.

Under that plan, states would collectively develop data to assess the quality of their capacity to educate all students under the new standards. But states could select which data they chose to report.

The panel is expected to consider the proposal next month.

Broader Issues

The issue of school capacity standards took up much of the council's deliberations on a day it had hoped to move quickly toward its Dec. 31 deadline for presenting its final report.

Faced with little remaining time and a raft of issues to decide, Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, the council's other co-chairman, said the panel would be unlikely to hold public hearings on its proposals before writing the final report. Instead, he said, the council is soliciting written comments from interested parties.

The 32-member panel, created in June, was charged with reporting to the Congress and to the National Education Goals Panel on the desirability and feasibility of national standards for student performance in school subjects and a system of assessments for measuring performance against the standards.

The debate last week was not the first to venture into broader issues of schooling.

At its October meeting, the panel considered a proposal to recommend a host of systemic reforms aimed at ensuring that students are able to meet the new, higher standards. (See Education Week, Oct. 30, 1991 .) David W. Hornbeck, the chairman of the task force that had proposed the recommendations for systemic changes, said last week that standards and assessments alone are not sufficient to improve student performance.

"Is it good enough to think up standards, to think up assessments," he asked, "and give up to somebody else how they are used and impact on kids?"

Raising a Red Flag

Such concerns also surfaced last week during the council's discussion of the proposed assessment system.

A task force on assessment, headed by Eva L. Baker, a co-director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing at the University of California at Los Angeles, proposed recommending that states and school districts be free to develop their own assessments to meet the national standards.

At the national level, the panel proposed, an independent board should evaluate the assessments to ensure their quality, including their effects on educational equity. Such evaluations may include school visits to verify and enhance district and state reports, the task force stated.

States and districts must provide the board with evidence of the tests' validity before using them to provide consequences for students, the task force proposed.

Tests have been partly responsible for "creating and hardening the inequities that are out there," Ms. Baker said. "We want to make sure that doesn't happen [with the new system]."

But Governor Campbell said the assessment system should provide information on student performance, not on school conditions. Otherwise, he said, the proposed board would end up dictating policies to schools.

"When you promote equity with a technical board checking assessments, you're creating a board that's telling people what they have to do in order to assess," Governor Campbell said. "i'm not sure you want to create that. That raises a red flag for me."

Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico also said the proposed board should take a more active role in causing assessments to be developed, rather than simply evaluating those developed at the state and local levels.

"I won't be around long enough to see a system of assessment that would be comparable so that parents can see if their 4th graders are achieving the national standards," he said.

Vol. 11, Issue 13, Page 10

Published in Print: November 27, 1991, as Standards Council Splits Over Guidelines For School
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