By All Measures: Other Voices:

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Lynne V. Cheney, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The major difference between most of the examinations offered in other countries and the system of assessments being proposed for the United States is that the American plans are aimed at all students, not just those in certain schools or classes who aspire to college. The evidence of competence that achievement tests provide will be a valuable credential for students wanting to enter the workplace, as well as for those aiming at college. The high expectations that achievement tests allow and the incentives they provide should be part of every student's education.

As it is now, these expectations and incentives are often reserved for a few honor students.

Iris Carl, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

In the absence of a comprehensive set of standards to act as guideposts, decisionmakers have permitted standardized tests, which focus on 19th-century skills, to determine and drive the curriculum. If the trend that this practice has foisted upon us continues, half of the graduating seniors will not have mastered 8th-grade arithmetic and only 6 percent will leave school with a 12th-grade mathematics education.

The standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics are having considerable impact at all levels of education. A survey conducted this spring found that 30 percent of teachers of mathematics are implementing them. The National Council on Education Standards and Testing is recommending them to the Congress for consideration as mathematics-content standards for the nation. More than 35 states are using them to revise their curricula--and 20 of these states are using them to make similar changes in their assessment procedures.

Assessment must be aligned with standards. Success depends on building a system of authentic assessment that measures what is valued in mathematics in ways that are consistent with curriculum and teaching standards.

Lamar Alexander, U.S. Secretary of Education.

As part of America 2000, President Bush has called for the development of world-class standards describing important knowledge and skills that all students should learn. Once we know what we want to accomplish, states and localities can begin to change instruction, textbooks, and teacher training to meet that challenge.

Research supports the value of standards, because children do best when their teachers have high expectations and when their curriculum is challenging. This is why the U.S. Education Department is building on the success of the standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and providing support for other national standards-setting projects. We are now funding the development of voluntary national standards in history and science and will soon announce similar efforts in the arts, civics, English, and geography.

Betty Castor, Commissioner of Education of Florida.

The greatest benefit of establishing a national voluntary system of standards and assessments will be the focused, energizing effect on the school-improvement efforts around the country. Although here in Florida we will adopt state standards for the performance of schools and students, the adoption of national standards and assessments would be complementary to the overall movement toward excellence that we anticipate for our state.

Since 1990, we have permitted the instructional program to be determined locally, based on the needs of local students and their families. These school-based improvement efforts are characterized by a more individualized, skills-oriented, outcome-based system shaped by a commitment to quality management.

The spirit of change has never been greater in this state. All 2,500 schools have councils--made up of parents and community leaders, along with educators--which are in the process of developing school-improvement plans that will lead to the establishment of local and state goals. This attitude of commitment would benefit from the adoption of standards that further ensure reform efforts meet expectations.

Such a system will be successful only in the context of clearly articulated performance standards and assessments that both influence instruction and measure the outcomes anticipated. But the development of high-quality instruments requires human and financial resources beyond the capacity of most individual states, even in a system as large as Florida. Our collegial efforts--in partnership with the brightest minds in education--will result in the production of superior products at greater savings than could ever be accomplished by states in isolation. This national leadership will make the difference for us in Florida.

Eve M. Bither, Commissioner of Education of Maine.

A national system of standards and assessments is not only possible and feasible, it is essential if we are to move confidently into the 21st century. Most of our international trading partners and competitors base their educational system on national standards and, in many cases, on a very prescriptive national curriculum.

While it would be an error to aim for a national curriculum, there should be national agreement on the knowledge, skills, and values we expect of our students. The means on how to reach these standards are then best developed at the state and local level through extensive discussion, thoughtful preparation, and careful implementation of a meaningful curriculum. National standards, backed by a national assessment system, will impel action at the state and local level.

An examination of desired student outcomes two years ago in Maine resulted in our Common Core of Learning. That our common core is now widely accepted comes as a surprise to those educators who, two years ago, feared a state-mandated curriculum and now find themselves energetically engaged in the implementation of this fine document, working with high schools and university faculty, department staff, private foundations, and the business community. Together, we are developing curriculum frameworks, amending teacher-preparation and certification programs, and adjusting our student-assessment systems to these higher expectations. It is exhilarating and eminently satisfying work.

Bill Honig, State Superintendent of Public Instruction of California.

Two of the most powerful tools for improving children's educational performance are an agreed-upon set of national curricular standards and a national assessment system based on performance standards. Curricular standards delineate what students need to know. Performance standards designate what such knowledge looks like when used by students at various achievement levels.

It does little good merely to adopt curriculum standards nationally. The crucial question is: What do schools do with them? We must develop common performance standards building on this curriculum and then assure that the local assessment systems generate comparable data.

An assessment system based on these performance standards would allow every school, teacher, and parent to know how individuals or groups of students are progressing in skills such as literacy, numeracy, and writing. Such information is invaluable because it portrays how effective a school's instructional program is and focuses efforts on how best to improve performance.

Take writing, for example. For years, California has had effective training programs on teaching writing, and thousands of teachers have participated. Many of these teachers became enthusiastic converts to what they learned. But they hit brick walls at their schools when they tried to initiate more-effective writing programs.

Recently, California took another approach to fostering good writing instruction. We developed a test with six levels based on what advanced, competent, mediocre, or poor writing looked like. When individual school results were published, many schools finally became serious about writing instruction. They asked: Why do only 30 percent of our students reach competent levels, when other schools with the same kinds of students and resources get 50 percent at that level? Tremendous improvements in writing performance occurred as educators sought to answer this question.

We must invest the funds needed to develop performance standards for major subjects. Educators need to learn how to equate their assessments to the national skills, make judgments based on these skills, and then train a core of teachers to make reliable judgments.

Lois Williams, middle-school teacher in Albemarle County, Va.

Teaching to a test is not bad, especially if what the test measures is what we want our students to know and be able to do. Currently required standardized tests are not measuring the knowledge our students are going to need when they enter the workplace. Current tests tend to reflect knowledge that can be learned through memorization--algorithms, identifying parts of speech, etc. They do not test what we want from our future citizens--problem-solving skills. Since tests drive the curriculum, a test that measures the standards society values at this time for a good education is necessary to change current teaching practices.

Vol. 11, Issue 39, Page s12

Published in Print: June 17, 1992, as By All Measures: Other Voices:
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