Standards

Education Alliance Calls for Corrections To Standards-Based Systems

By Lynn Olson — January 24, 2001 3 min read
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A coalition of nearly a dozen national education groups called last week for a set of “midcourse corrections” that it believes are necessary for the promise of standards-based education to be fulfilled for all students.

The statement by the Washington-based Learning First Alliance emphasizes the group’s continuing support for high academic standards and public accountability in education.

For More Information

The full statement is available online at www.learningfirst.org

But it also raises “serious concerns” about how states and districts are implementing their standards-based initiatives.

“In too many places,” the group argues, “essentials for student success are lacking. In too many places, the emphasis is on testing rather than on learning.”

Alliance members identify five areas that “require urgent attention.” In particular, the group recommends:

•The use of rich instructional programs and curricula that support state and district standards, as well as high-quality testing systems that adequately gauge achievement of the standards and use a variety of measurement techniques;

•An assurance that every child is taught by well- prepared teachers, who must receive professional development to help them teach to the standards;

•A commitment to provide extra help for children who need it and sufficient resources for schools to meet the standards;

•Better communication about the content, purposes, and consequences of standards and accountability systems, including how they will affect students; and

•Responsible accountability systems that couple high-quality, aligned assessments with incentives for students and schools that meet standards, and supports for students and schools that do not.

“In designing these accountability systems,” the group urges, “states and districts should examine carefully the use of a single standardized-test score as the sole basis for important decisions about students or schools.” Standardized-test scores should be considered along with other information in making such decisions, the group says.

‘The Best Road’

The Learning First Alliance was founded in 1997 as a permanent partnership of national education organizations working to improve student learning. Only one of the group’s dozen members did not sign on to the statement, the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

Sherry Freeland Walker, a spokeswoman for the ECS, said the group does not routinely take positions on issues and had not had an opportunity to put the statement before its executive committee. “We see our role more as advisers,” she said. “It had nothing to do with the statement itself. It’s a procedural thing.”

Judy Wurtzel, the executive director of the alliance, said each of the member organizations has a “slightly different take on the issues,” given their constituencies.

“We thought it was really important to make it completely clear that these organizations agree that standards-based reform is the best road for improvement,” she said. “But it’s a long road, and we’ve been learning some lessons as we go along.”

The statement was drafted, in part, to address concerns about a potential backlash against states’ standards-based initiatives. “We very much wanted to be on the record saying, yes, there are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed,” Ms. Wurtzel said, “but there should not be a backlash against the whole movement.”

At its board meeting later this month, the coalition plans to consider the next steps that its membership might take collectively. In addition, Ms. Wurtzel noted, each of the groups will communicate the statement to its own members, who together number about 10 million.

The organizations supporting the statement are: the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the American Association of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the National Education Association, the National PTA, and the National School Boards Association.

A version of this article appeared in the January 24, 2001 edition of Education Week as Education Alliance Calls for Corrections To Standards-Based Systems

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