While nearly all the states and the District of Columbia have embraced academic standards as a primary means for improving public education, none has a coordinated system that links all the pieces, according to an evaluation by the American Federation of Teachers.
“The bad news is that no state is coordinating standards, curriculum, tests, and accountability measures,” AFT President Sandra Feldman said in a statement. “Very few states have developed at least basic curriculum, and most state tests are based on weak standards or don’t match what is taught. The system needs a midcourse correction.”
Since 1995, the 1.2 million-member teachers’ union has evaluated state standards in English, mathematics, science, and social studies based on their specificity and clarity. The latest “Making Standards Matter” report is the first to look at the status of curriculum development linked to the standards.
On the standards front, the study found those of 28 states and the District of Columbia to be generally clear and specific, up from 22 states in 1999. While 37 states have started to align tests to standards in the core subjects, 31 states and the District of Columbia give tests that do not meet the AFT’s criteria for alignment.
Seventeen states have adopted policies for promoting students based on whether they’ve met the standards as gauged by tests, and 27 states have high school exit exams aligned to standards. But no states have fully developed curricula in the four subjects that include learning sequences, instructional resources, teaching strategies, performance indicators, and lesson plans.
Changing Role for States
The evaluation reflects the changing attitudes toward states’ responsibility for curriculum, according to at least one expert.
“It has not traditionally been part of the states’ roles to develop curriculum. In fact, except in some Southern states, it has actually been taboo,” said Matthew Gandal, the vice president of Achieve, a group based in Cambridge, Mass., formed by governors and business executives to promote states’ standards-based initiatives.
Mr. Gandal was the primary author of several of the “Making Standards Matter” reports for the AFT during the 1990s.
“Here is a group representing teachers that is stepping forward and saying they need help, and they need states to take more responsibility,” he said last week.
The challenge, in Mr. Gandal’s view, is to determine what states can do to be catalysts for the development of better instructional materials without overstepping the boundaries of local control of schools.
A version of this article appeared in the November 07, 2001 edition of Education Week as No State Has a Coordinated Standards Effort, AFT Says