States' Grades Inch Upward On Content Standards

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The quality of states' academic-content standards is improving, but still isn't good enough, according to a group that regularly grades what states say students should know in core subjects.

"The results ... indicate modest progress in the quality of state standards," Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, said at a press conference held here last week to release the new grades. "We've got a heck of a lot of work to do before the country has standards worth attaining."

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"The State of State Standards" is free by calling (888) TBF-7474. It is also online at
soss2000/standards2000.html</ a>.

Fordham gave the states a C-minus average after its experts reviewed the materials provided by state officials. That's up from a D-plus the Washington-based research organization conferred on the states in 1998. Iowa, which does not have state standards, did not receive a grade.

Only eight states and the District of Columbia scored a B-minus or higher, according to "The State of State Standards." Twenty-three states received a D-plus or lower, according to the foundation, which advocates standards-based policies and market-based reforms. Mr. Finn was the assistant U.S. secretary of education for research during the Reagan administration.

In Fordham's 1998 report, three states received B's, and 30 were given D's or failing marks. ("Many States' Standards Add Up to 'D' in Review," July 8, 1998.)

While Fordham's grades are lower than those given by other groups that regularly rate standards, its overall message reflects a consensus that the quality of standards is improving, but not fast enough.

"I agree with the fundamental conclusion: We are not living in the age of standards-based reform—at least not yet," said Mark D. Musick, the president of the Southern Regional Education Board, whom Mr. Finn invited to comment on the report.

Chester E. Finn Jr.

But many educators quibble with the criteria Fordham chooses to base its grades on.

English standards, for example, are marked down if they don't require phonics-based instruction in the early grades, and mathematics standards lose points if they suggest that young children could use calculators in classroom exercises.

Both beliefs are subject to rancorous debate among educators who believe that early reading instruction should be based on a combination of literature and phonics, or sounding out, and that elementary school pupils should have access to calculators in some situations.

Kansas Fails Science

While improvement was the norm, Kansas saw its science grade drop. The state board of education's standards that omit evolution includes "nonsense of a pseudoscientific bent," the Fordham report says.

The draft rejected by the Kansas board last summer "would have attained one of the highest ratings among the state standards reviewed here," the report adds. Instead, Kansas' science grade fell from a C to an F.

Vol. 19, Issue 17, Page 5

Published in Print: January 12, 2000, as States' Grades Inch Upward On Content Standards
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