Title Holder

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The provision of the law that calls for "multiple measures" of assessment reflects one of Payzant's strong beliefs.

By ending the distinction between city and federal money, Payzant believes that approach will stop. Schools, he hopes, will design a program that meets the needs of all children, ending the separation of projects for those with varying academic abilities.

By raising the standards for all students, those starting at the lowest rung will experience gains, according to the philosophy that underlies the new Title I program and Payzant's approach in Boston.

The biggest barrier, he says, is getting people to change the way they've always done things. "I've been pretty direct in making it clear that the pattern of using a pullout program with a remedial focus is no longer acceptable. Now, that does not mean that a targeted pullout isn't something a school can explore."

For instance, he cites Reading Recovery, a program in which trained teachers work individually with students outside the regular classroom, as a "targeted pullout" that he would sanction.

After his meeting in McAlear's office, the superintendent tours several 1st grade classrooms. Teachers tell their students to stand at their desks and greet him, a formality common in the city's schools.

At every stop, teachers ask their students to demonstrate what they're learning. One class reads letters they wrote him in anticipation of his visit, and the superintendent peeks over a child's shoulder as the child reads aloud.

Students in a bilingual classroom read as a group from their teacher's flashcards. Another class reads from weather journals.

Payzant says he looks for activity and demonstrations of student work in his school visits. He liked Ohrenberger Elementary's bulletin boards because they were decorated with students' writings and drawings, not posters selected by teachers. To his eye, it's a small sign that students are actively learning.

But the federal law that Payzant helped write won't settle for such nebulous observations.

The schools must show "adequate yearly progress" under benchmarks defined by the state. If they don't, the federal law requires the school system to intervene, firing principals and reassigning teachers to other jobs if all other attempts to improve the school fail.

Indeed, the leaders of the Boston system--or any other district receiving Title I aid--could be subjected to similar penalties if districtwide scores don't measure up to state standards.

That's why the last question to be answered in Payzant's comprehensive plan--how will we know our school is making progress--is so vital.

The provision of the law that calls for "multiple measures" of assessment reflects one of Payzant's strong beliefs. In Washington, he was one of the most vigorous proponents of ending schools' reliance on multiple-choice tests. In the future, schools must use assessments that include at least some extended-response questions and student portfolios.

The ambitious roster of tests does not need to be in place until 2000, a deadline intended to give schools time to prepare.

Payzant himself is getting ready, but he's not moving as quickly as some would like.

'It's amazing to me how even Tom so quickly falls back on the standardized test.'

Ellen Guiney
Executive Director,
Boston Plan
for Excellence in
the Public Schools

Shortly after arriving, he changed the testing system from the Metropolitan Achievement Test to the Stanford Nine. While the new test, like the one it replaced, relies too much on multiple-choice for his tastes, it has the potential for expanding into extended response.

"One of the reasons we picked it is because it's more aligned with where we are going versus where we are," he says. Nonetheless, he expresses some frustration that the Stanford test is not as progressive as he would like.

But that's not good enough for some Title I observers. Ellen Guiney, who worked for Sen. Kennedy when he chaired the committee that handled education legislation, says that in retrospect she wishes she hadn't compromised to stretch the deadline for comprehensive assessments until after Congress revisits the law in 1999.

"It's amazing to me how even Tom so quickly falls back on the standardized test," she says.

Testing is one of the areas where Guiney and Payzant, who worked together closely to win congressional approval for the new law and who generally support each other in their new positions, have what he characterizes as "friendly debates."

"We both would like to see an emphasis on a range of performance-based assessments," Payzant says. "The range of performance-based assessments available now doesn't meet the standards of reliability that give people a level of comfort to make decisions with high stakes."

Until they do, he says, they won't play a central role in Boston's assessment systems.

There are also questions about the commitment to the comprehensive plan itself. Support from the nonprofit sector and Payzant's continuous prodding are essential for the school plans to lead to actual, significant change, Guiney believes.

"It's important to have a school do a plan, but if [its leaders] have no support to do a deep plan, it's a form-filling-out exercise," Guiney says.

Payzant wants to be careful to avoid just such an outcome. But he concedes that the questions that need to be answered require so much research, consensus building, and community support that it's not an easy project.

"If it's done well, it can't be a plan that's written by the principal on a couple of weekends and run by the staff and site council before it's submitted," he says. To ensure that it's done according to his standards, he vows to read every one over the course of the year.

Payzant finishes his tour of six classrooms at Ohrenberger Elementary. McAlear invites him upstairs to drop in on the upper grades, but he must decline. He's already late for his next school visit, he has a meeting with the mayor in the afternoon, and he hasn't even begun to sort through the paperwork that started piling up on his desk yesterday afternoon.

Even though it's a Friday, he works until midnight, responding to electronic-mail messages, including one from McAlear.

Whether in Boston or Washington, there are some things about promoting education progress that never change.

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