Six months after the 1999 National Education Summit, 38 states have met a deadline for detailing how they plan to make standards a reality in classrooms.
The responses, submitted to Achieve Inc., the Cambridge, Mass.-based group that was the principal sponsor of the summit, outline what states plan to do, or are already doing, in three areas: improving educator quality, helping all students meet high standards, and strengthening accountability.
“The good news is, not only are the states staying the course with standards, assessments, and accountability,” said Robert Schwartz, the president of Achieve, “but I think there’s pretty solid evidence—looking across these plans—that states are not simply stopping with raising the bar, and shouting at kids and teachers to jump higher, but are moving to address the support question.”
His comments come amid growing concerns about how standards-based improvement efforts are playing out in the states. (“Worries of a Standards ‘Backlash’ Grow,” April 5, 2000.)
Some of these concerns are being expressed by longtime critics of standardized testing. These critics are being joined in a growing number of states by students, parents, and educators who view such tests as inimical to quality education.
While Mr. Schwartz said the quality of the responses varied widely, many states are working to refine and improve their efforts surrounding standards and assessments. For example, eight states reported that they were adding standards or improving their existing set, and 15 states are designing or revamping their testing systems.
Focus on Teachers
“Significant movement” also is under way on issues of teacher quality, Mr. Schwartz said. For example, 10 states reported new, enhanced, or proposed requirements for testing prospective teachers. And four states—California, Florida, Georgia, and Ohio—have new or proposed initiatives to pay more to teachers willing to work in shortage areas or in hard-to-staff schools.
But Achieve found that states are paying less attention to providing the existing teaching force with professional development aligned with state standards.
States also are struggling to ensure that all students have access to a rigorous curriculum and to the supports they need to reach the standards.
“The real crisis is going to come as states face the prospect of large numbers of kids being held back or denied diplomas,” Mr. Schwartz said. “I might wish it were not so, but that’s what will drive the states to pay significantly more attention to this issue.”
Concern that the unfavorable consequences of the standards push are falling most heavily on students has led, in part, to the reaction against so-called high-stakes testing in some states.
Mr. Schwartz said Achieve would use the state responses to identify areas in which policymakers could use some targeted help. The nonprofit group, created by governors and business leaders to help move standards-based reform forward, plans to hold a series of national forums on critical topics, such as professional development for teachers, in the coming year.
Achieve also plans to post the state responses on its World Wide Web site, www.achieve.org, so that policymakers and the public can compare strategies across states. More states are expected to file their plans in the coming weeks.
The Learning First Alliance, a partnership of 12 national education associations, which was a co-sponsor of last fall’s summit, also released a report last week on activities its members are undertaking to improve student learning. Download the Learning First Alliance’s Response to the 1999 National Education Summit (in MS Word format), from the Learning First Alliance site.
A version of this article appeared in the April 19, 2000 edition of Education Week as States Seen as Staying the Course On Standards