Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) literacy study in which the United States performed well, despite its students' generally disappointing performance on the reading assessment of the National Assessment for Education Progress (Elley, 1992; Campbell et al., 1996). It seems clear that Colorado, Illinois, and Maryland have sought international comparisons as sources of information to use in the development of standards to fit their own needs, rather than as sources of absolute performance objectives.

Summing Up

The dialogues that many in the United States education community have had with international colleagues have revealed an interesting perspective—our obsession with defining and adhering to higher standards is very puzzling to many of them (Resnick et al., 1995:441). The reason seems to be that in many countries both content and performance standards are deeply embedded in the educational system—and tightly coupled with other elements of the system—and are simply not discussed in isolation. Arguably this state of affairs is what standards-based reformers here aspire to, but arriving at it in a more deliberate, albeit slow, manner should be an opportunity for some valuable reflection about the nation's commitment to providing an excellent education for all of its children.

One of the intended goals of the workshop was to consider ways of moving the process of standards-based reform forward, and participants offered both general and specific suggestions to that end. While no attempt was made to establish consensus about any of the suggestions that were made, several themes emerged.

Standards need to be embedded in and integrated into the entire education system. As all the presenters made clear, standards will not work by themselves. In order for standards to be fully integrated into a system, the social and political purposes of having them need to be worked out in a public forum. Bickel and LeMahieu amplified this point with their observation about the unrealistically high expectations many leaders have of standards' capacity to improve education—and society in general—in the United States. Moreover, a community needs to plan for the consequences that standards will have on all the parts of the system and for the changes—in assessments, in textbooks, and in teacher training, for example—that will be needed to accompany new standards. For standards to work, they need to be understood by all who will be affected by them, and they need to be made to matter to those who must meet them and those who must support them.

There is a need for greater and clearer communication about standards than is currently taking place. A variety of different constituencies—students, teachers, parents, employers, the academic



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 22
--> Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) literacy study in which the United States performed well, despite its students' generally disappointing performance on the reading assessment of the National Assessment for Education Progress (Elley, 1992; Campbell et al., 1996). It seems clear that Colorado, Illinois, and Maryland have sought international comparisons as sources of information to use in the development of standards to fit their own needs, rather than as sources of absolute performance objectives. Summing Up The dialogues that many in the United States education community have had with international colleagues have revealed an interesting perspective—our obsession with defining and adhering to higher standards is very puzzling to many of them (Resnick et al., 1995:441). The reason seems to be that in many countries both content and performance standards are deeply embedded in the educational system—and tightly coupled with other elements of the system—and are simply not discussed in isolation. Arguably this state of affairs is what standards-based reformers here aspire to, but arriving at it in a more deliberate, albeit slow, manner should be an opportunity for some valuable reflection about the nation's commitment to providing an excellent education for all of its children. One of the intended goals of the workshop was to consider ways of moving the process of standards-based reform forward, and participants offered both general and specific suggestions to that end. While no attempt was made to establish consensus about any of the suggestions that were made, several themes emerged. Standards need to be embedded in and integrated into the entire education system. As all the presenters made clear, standards will not work by themselves. In order for standards to be fully integrated into a system, the social and political purposes of having them need to be worked out in a public forum. Bickel and LeMahieu amplified this point with their observation about the unrealistically high expectations many leaders have of standards' capacity to improve education—and society in general—in the United States. Moreover, a community needs to plan for the consequences that standards will have on all the parts of the system and for the changes—in assessments, in textbooks, and in teacher training, for example—that will be needed to accompany new standards. For standards to work, they need to be understood by all who will be affected by them, and they need to be made to matter to those who must meet them and those who must support them. There is a need for greater and clearer communication about standards than is currently taking place. A variety of different constituencies—students, teachers, parents, employers, the academic

OCR for page 22
--> The State Experience—Colorado Based on presentation by Wayne Martin The state of Colorado has become extremely committed to an international perspective, although, as Mr. Martin noted, this was not a deliberate goal. The primary catalyst for the international focus was an economic crisis. Colorado experienced an oil boom and then an oil bust. One of its major industries, beef cattle, declined at the same time. The state's response was to look to trade with other countries for a solution to rising unemployment. There was a recognition that all students needed to be well educated in order for Colorado to compete in a global arena. An additional impetus for the state to investigate international comparisons came from its then governor, Roy Romer, who had served on the National Education Goals Panel and has had a long-standing interest in education. Colorado made three major commitments to international comparisons: participation in International Assessment of Educational Progress (IAEP) studies of math, science, and geography achievement at ages 4, 9, and 13, participation in the New Standards Project, and participation—they were one of a handful of states—in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). As the TIMSS data are released, Colorado will focus on the background data collected from the top-performing countries, with the goal of identifying effective strategies they might adapt for their own purposes. For Colorado, international comparisons are seen as a way of informing the process of developing its own standards. community, political leaders, voters—have a stake in education standards, and they have differing priorities, biases, and understandings. In order for the adoption of standards to result in improvements in schools and in student performance, all of these constituencies must understand and support them. They will also need a common understanding of terms, as the difference between business and other leaders' definitions of “world class” illustrates. Discussions of standards that do not distinguish among performance, content, and opportunity-to-learn standards (as occurred occasionally at the workshop) can contribute to misunderstanding about the precise nature and purpose of standards in different contexts and about their potential value. It is also important that those involved in developing and implementing standards share information and solutions to avoid duplicating effort. Though a good deal of information is available—both in print and electronically—about standards efforts, no central clearing-house for information and ideas exists. The context of the standards movement is quite different from one state to another, but, as one participant noted, the general momentum developing is in the direction of consensus-building, a sort of “bottom-up” progression toward national standards.

OCR for page 22
--> There is a need for greater involvement of teachers in standards-based reform. Floden's argument that, as he put it, “Most of the effect…policy makers have on student learning is channeled through those actually teaching children” was extremely compelling to the group, and many participants cited the importance of involving teachers (Floden, 1996:1). Teachers cannot implement standards they do not fully understand and support. Moreover, since it is they who best understand the contexts in which learning takes place, teachers are in a position to make an invaluable contribution to the development of standards. The support of discipline experts is also important, not only for political reasons, but also because their expertise is fundamental to the quality of standards. If the goal of increasing the professional status of teachers while raising content standards for their licensure is achieved, a corollary benefit should be an increased sense of solidarity between university professors and those who teach younger students. There is a need for more data. At many points during the workshop, participants remarked on the need for additional information, particularly international comparative data. More knowledge about systems of teacher preparation and development that have been successful in other countries would be helpful as states and others struggle to improve that critical leg of standards-based reform. More information about incentives for meeting high standards that have been developed in other educational systems and about assessments that have been used would be equally helpful, as would data about the extent to which standards already in use have made a difference. Participants also spoke of the need to gain as much from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study as possible, both by pursuing promising secondary analyses and by examining the effects the results have on practice. Several participants highlighted the need for international comparative data in general, and stressed that international assessments would be more useful if their content, and their schedules, were more consistent and predictable. Clearly, information about what other countries are doing is crucial to the development and maintenance of standards that will help U.S. students to compete internationally. These themes suggest that there may not be a simple answer to the question of how to define international competitiveness for education standards. While the discussion at the workshop clearly supported the notion that international comparisons are vital, participants agreed that each set of standards—for content or performance—must fit its own circumstances. Countries vary considerably in terms of virtually every aspect of their educational systems. Some have formal written standards; others have unwritten ones. Some have standards that are extremely specific; others have only general goals. The education goals that countries establish for their students range across a broad