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--> I contend that standards would have the net effect of reducing inequities—a system without expectations invariably accepts inequities. Respondent in LeMahieu and Bickel that expectations for standards are quite high. Poll respondents cited as reasons for their desire for higher education standards a “pervasive moral decay in American culture,” a “widespread economic anxiety,” and the view that “leadership is out of touch with the concerns of average Americans,” although, of course, these are not problems that are addressed in any way by academic standards. Much of the discussion at the workshop strongly suggested that curing these ills is an unrealistic and inappropriate goal for education standards. Standard-Setting as a Political Process Every educational system has standards for content, performance, and the opportunity to learn, whether they are formally developed and intentional or implicit. A system that is not providing all of its students with opportunities that would permit equivalent accomplishment is the result of social and political choices about expectations for population groups, even though these decisions may not have been deliberate. Alan Ruby raised this issue by describing a debate that occurred in Australia when that country decided to increase its target graduation rates for secondary students. The debate was over what percentage of students ought to be expected to graduate, with one faction arguing that a target over 70 or 80 percent was unrealistic, and others arguing that to declare that any percentage was not expected to graduate was an injustice to some students. (The parties settled on a goal of 95 percent.) Ruby's response to this tension between high standards for all and high standards for the few was that there is no one correct balance. He maintained that a specific purpose for any set of standards must be explicitly worked out in a public political forum and that this purpose will determine how high the bar should be set in that context. In the Australian example, the purpose of the standard was to help the nation produce workers who could compete for a particular category of jobs; hence, the percentage of expected nongraduates could not exceed the projected percentage of jobs for which high school graduation would not be necessary. A similar calculation of the specific purpose of having a set of standards, and public discussion of the implications of the established purpose, is a necessary step, in Ruby's view, for any community that wants standards that are both valid and fair. A part of this calculation is to plan not just for groups expected to meet or exceed the standard (the intended outcome for those who pass might be grade promotion, employment, or college entrance, for example), but also to plan effectively for those who may not. A plan for the latter group might be based on a determination that the failing group will be brought to a passing level, and allocate
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--> resources for remedial work or other supports. Alternatively, an educational pathway for students not meeting a certain level of achievement by a certain point might be developed, and standards developed for it as well. Addressing the equity concerns that many have raised about standards, Ruby said in his presentation: I would like to get right down to what we are saying. Are we saying that there are children in our community that because of their race, their gender, their social class will learn less, should learn less, or are likely to learn less than others? The problem is not in the individual, the problem is in the system of delivery, and that's where our standards are. Then it becomes an argument about resources and affirmative action …. Though the workshop did not explicitly address opportunity-to-learn standards, Ruby and others stressed that it does not make sense to think about performance or content standards by themselves. If the same set of standards applied in different contexts would be likely to produce different results, then the problem is not to find the “best” or the “highest” standards, but to find those that will enable the students for whom they are intended to reach the highest level of achievement they can. An understanding of the content and performance standards that are in place for high-achieving students around the world should surely inform a local search for standards, but simply imitating standards that have worked in one place would clearly not be an effective strategy because context is so important. Ruby joked that the term “internationally competitive” might be understood to refer to standards that are in competition with one another as documents. His point was that an exclusive focus on comparing the form and content of standards could obscure the need to consider the entire network of factors that affect student achievement. Despite his warnings, Ruby did identify several strategies that he believes characterize effective standard-setting, which were amplified by the comments of other participants. Design standards that are context-specific. Effective standards are linked to well-defined objectives and priorities that the community—whether a nation, state, or district—that is adopting the standards has chosen. Synthesize goals and performance. To be effective, standards must address the gap between what is expected and what students actually do. This means that content standards and resource standards are as important as, and must fit with, outcome standards. Focus on the educational core. Standards should be related to central and enduring parts of the education system. Although some people may criticize this approach as one that will encourage teaching to the test (assuming the standards are linked to assessments), others would argue that if the test reflects thoughtful priorities, preparing for it is not a bad thing.
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--> Link standards closely to schools. Standards should focus on things that can be affected by changes within the school system: setting standards for aspects of students' experiences that are outside the influence of education policy is pointless. Make the standards clear and transparent. Standards must be easily and widely understood if they are to be widely espoused and effectively implemented. Adopt a systemic approach. Standards can only work if they are reinforced by other elements of the education system, and if they, in turn, reinforce the system's goals. We seem to be stuck at a point right now where we're trying to develop a perfect standard that will drive the system to all of these wonderful goals…We are sort of standing at the precipice and can't quite jump. Maggie McNeely As several participants pointed out in the course of the workshop, the United States seems to be stuck at a plateau with regard to standards-based reform. Although much work has been done in developing many sets of standards, and in building consensus that standards are desirable, the nation has so far not committed itself to any one vision of standards. The reasons for this situation primarily lie in the U.S. federal political system, under which the funding, management, and policy making for primary and secondary schools are largely the responsibility of state and local officials. In this context, political resistance to any suggestion of a national curriculum is high, although such a curriculum is not a necessary element of a standards-based system. Moreover, Ruby argued, there is an ambiguity about who is responsible to whom for success or failure in education, and this ambiguity could and should be resolved through the process of developing standards. His recommendation is that the United States needs to have a discussion of its economic and social goals in order to clarify the decisions that need to made about education standards. “There seems to be a lack of political agreement about the purpose of schooling” in the United States, he explained. Clearly, such a discussion could be illuminated by an understanding of the goals for education, and the means for achieving them, that have emerged in other countries. Ruby noted that there is no regulatory framework in the U.S. education system, though standards in other countries are generally attached to regulatory or compliance mechanisms. This issue was raised a number of times during the day, and the experiences of some of the states that have moved toward incentives were cited. In Maryland, for example, a system of assessments has recently been put in place for grades 3,5, and 8; the state's goal is to make passing the grade twelve assessment a requirement for graduation by 2004 (see the box on page 12). Ruby remarked that national standards for the content to be mastered by licensed teachers would be fundamental to the implementation of academic standards with teeth for students. No disagreement with the idea that incentives are crucial to making stan-
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--> The State Experience—Maryland Based on presentation by Robert Rice The state of Maryland has found an idiosyncratic way of obtaining international comparisons: it administered its state assessment to students in both Baden-Wurttembourg, Germany, and Taiwan, Republic of China. While these two international collaborators were identified more by coincidence than by design, the testing has provided useful input into an ongoing debate in Maryland about whether the state's standards are sufficiently challenging and whether the state assessment program is adequately measuring student progress toward meeting the standards. Specifically, the international effort was designed to identify both levels of achievement and means of assessing it that are respected across national boundaries. It was also intended to provide opportunities for cross-national collaborations in test design, development, and analysis that would have lasting benefits for Maryland. The Maryland curriculum is not particularly well aligned with those of either Baden-Wurttembourg or Taiwan, and the state faced a number of stiff technical challenges in the course of the project. Not surprisingly, translation was a major issue. However, the joint assessments have yielded some useful insights into the age-appropriateness of certain kinds of items and material, as well as on the relative achievement of Maryland students. In general, results showed that Maryland students lag somewhat behind both the Germans and the Taiwanese, particularly in mathematics. dards effective was voiced at the workshop, though participants did not specifically address the implications of this point for assessment. One participant pursued one of the political issues inherent in setting standards. He noted that a seemingly unbridgeable gap exists between those who favor a systemic approach to standards, in which the various components of the system are aligned with a centrally developed set of standards, and those who view such a system as a fundamental threat to the autonomy of teachers. Ruby, however, dismissed the notion that this gap is unbridgeable. He described the system currently in place in New South Wales, Australia, in which assessments that are closely aligned to standards and are used as highstakes exit exams, are devised by teams of disciplinary experts from universities and exemplary teachers. In this system, teachers are not only given considerable influence on the standards and assessments, but are also given an excellent opportunity to become thoroughly familiar with the details and spirit of the standards. Noting that the United States had so far shied away from mandatory high-stakes assessments at the national level (though many exist at the state level), Ruby pointed out that in the absence of a formal credential such as passage of a test, those in the business of choosing
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--> among people for various purposes will use a proxy; in most cases the proxy is far more likely to disadvantage particular groups in an unfair way than is standards-based assessment that is open to public scrutiny. He suggested that high school diplomas offer no firm basis for selection and that potential employers might consciously or unconsciously use race, gender, zip code, or some other means of selecting from among a large group. With regard to employment, Ruby also called for the establishment of standards for adult learning. Given that a primary reason for establishing challenging standards for students is to prepare them for employment, he pointed out that life-long learning will be crucial if these workers are to maintain their competitive edge. Consequently, clear thinking about continuing education, and standards by which progress can be regulated and monitored, would be a valuable component of the standards movement in the United States. …the notion of internationally competitive standards implies a belief that there is just one set, that all nations across the world should have this same set of standards, that it's a universal set. Now I think that that's simply not so. Alan Ruby Ruby remarked that “one of the great fascinations about the United States is that [whenever] anyone gets a good idea, someone has got another one.” The debates, discussions, and research about education reform in this country seem almost self-perpetuating, he explained, but, “the actual delivery of a policy solution just doesn't happen.” His view was that a balance must be struck. Once the large policy questions about the purpose of imposing standards and the role they will play are addressed, it makes sense to move forward without reaching a state of scientific certainty about which, precisely, would be the best way to proceed. While he cautioned against “overselling” the value of standards, he acknowledged that much can be learned from the standards that have been used in other education systems. The key for the United States is to adapt its own standards to its own circumstances and its own goals. In response to a question, Ruby explained that Australia was able to make the leap of committing to standards because of a combination of factors that sound strikingly familiar to American ears: economic pressure to prepare workers to compete in a service economy, pressure from the business community to increase the competence of secondary school graduates, and a political climate amenable to reform. Australia adopted content and performance standards that are context-specific, and so, he argued, should the United States. A key insight that emerged from Ruby's discussion was a possible answer to the question of why internationally competitive standards have seemed such an elusive goal in the United States. His message was that while educators and others in the United States clearly need to learn from the experiences of others, it is a mistake to think of internationally competitive standards as a platonic ideal that, once realized, will transform American schools. Ruby described internationally competitive standards as “the Holy Grail of education
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