Support Builds for National Standards
National standards, one of the most hotly debated and intractable issues in education reform, may be close to becoming reality.
The policy has recently received the backing of the nation’s governors, a growing number of education leaders, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and much of the enthusiasm is rooted in the belief that national standards are the key to making U.S. students educationally, and economically, competitive with other nations.
The National Governors Association, in partnership with groups such as the Council of the Great City Schools, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the American Federation of Teachers, has adopted a statement endorsing a process to develop common academic standards by comparing student performance on international tests such as the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA ) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS ).
But many say that the proposal is difficult if not impossible to achieve and are wary that it may lead to the federal government’s nationalizing education.
“The United States does not have an obvious mechanism for doing this,” says Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based think tank.
Also, math and English, for example, may appear to be relatively easy subjects in which to find common ground, but experts say the debate has raged in reading over whether to focus on decoding and basic skills or to develop reading habits. And in the “math wars,” educators and mathematicians disagree over whether to emphasize algorithms or conceptual knowledge.
“Saying that you’re for national standards is almost the easy part,” says Finn.
Study Says No to PISA Test
The nation’s governors may be pushing for American students to gain on their peers around the world by using international tests as benchmarks, but one of those tests might be deeply flawed, a new report says.
A study released by the Brookings Institution, an independent research and policy institute, says the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA ), given to students in 57 countries, goes beyond learning to measure political values and beliefs and is not tied to school curricula. The report alleges that the test includes questions such as whether students favor laws that protect endangered species habitats and asks if they favor regulating factory emissions.
“These are political judgments,” says Tom Loveless, the study’s author. He also says the test doesn’t measure what schools teach, as the TI MSS or NAE P tests do, but what kids can do after schools have taught them.
The group that runs PISA , the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, calls the report’s findings disingenuous. They say that it’s important to see how students use what they learn, and that their beliefs are measured separately from knowledge and skills on the test.
Colo. District Does Away with Grades
Students at the Adams County School District 50 in metropolitan Denver may be excited to return to school this fall—they won’t get any grades.
At least not traditional grades. In an effort to reverse dismal test scores and the district’s 58 percent graduation rate, the 10,000-student district is adopting a “standards-based” educational approach that replaces the 12 standard grades (A through F) with 10 multiage levels, and students might be in different levels depending on the subject. Students will move up only after they have demonstrated mastery of the material. This is thought to be the first time such a program has been implemented on a large scale in an urban district.