January 17, 1996

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Vol. 15, Issue 17
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Mississippi appears poised to take over the financially strapped North Panola school system in Sardis under a so-far-untested law passed in 1991 that allows the state to assume control of troubled districts.
How many times have we heard the patent conclusion that "assessment drives curriculum"? It's been stated so often that many have come to accept it as the natural order of things, yet it seems to put the cart before the horse. First, we ought to think long and hard about the skills and knowledge we want for our children; then we can design assessment to measure how well they master those skills and that knowledge.
Weigand Avenue School in sunny Southern California is much like any other elementary school in the slums of Watts, site of South Central Los Angeles' atrocious riots and the most poverty-stricken area in the city. The demographic profile of the 400 students Weigand serves is shifting dramatically in ethnicity from African-American to Hispanic. Tonight there is no debris in front of the hovels on 103rd, Gorman, and Weigand, streets that embrace the school. Parents carrying infants and containers of fried chicken, greens, and enchiladas amble across the campus. Few sirens from police cars on Alameda Avenue are heard. There will be no fights among Mrs. Jones' robust sons who live across the street and watch out for the school. It is back-to-school night, and the community shows its respect.
The American way of knowing schools, particularly when there are questions about accountability, skillfully avoids what is actually happening in the classroom. Yet classrooms are the prime workplaces for the adults we pay to educate our children. We avoid the real-life complexities of teaching and learning when we take refuge in measuring student performance.
FOUNDATION SUPPORT: Coverage of specific topics in Education Week is supported in part by grants from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the CME Group Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, the Noyce Foundation, the Raikes Foundation, the Wallace Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. The newspaper retains sole editorial control over the content of the articles that are underwritten by the foundations. Additional grants in support of Editorial Projects in Education’s data journalism and video capacity come from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Schott Foundation for Public Education. (Updated 1/1/2017)

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