Thursday, January 11, 2001

School reform testing faulted

Magazine says Ohio, Ky. focus off-target

The Cincinnati Enquirer and Gannett News Service

        Too many school reformers are emphasizing test-taking instead of helping students meet rigorous new academic standards, Education Week magazine reported Wednesday.

        The study said 87 percent of public school teachers want to raise the standards. But nearly 70 percent say too much classroom time is devoted to tests.

• Standards and accountability: B
• Improving teacher quality: C -
• Adequacy: C
• Equity: F
• Standards and accountability: A -
• Improving teacher quality: C +
• Adequacy: B
• Equity: C +
        The report concludes that some states, in their rush to hold students accountable for performance, may not offer the help needed to reach higher expectations.

        For instance, 18 states require students to pass a graduation exam before they can receive a high school diploma, but only nine pay for additional training and materials to help students who fail the first time.

        Education policies in Ohio and Kentucky fall into these descriptions.

        • Ohio requires students in grades 4, 6, 9 and 12 to take state proficiency tests. Yet the state still is developing academic standards, and a committee appointed by the governor suggests a complete overhaul of the testing system.

        At the same time, Ohio continues to struggle with how to create an equitable funding system under an order from the Ohio Supreme Court to overhaul the system by June.

        Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Steven Adamowski said the report is a good barometer. He wasn't surprised Ohio received an F in equitable funding, giving the state Supreme Court ruling.

        “This is important for districts to see where as a state we are doing well and where we are not,” Mr. Adamowski said. “It does influence at the local level what you pay attention to.”

        • Kentucky, which recently celebrated 10 years of standards-based education reform and a new funding system, has recorded improvements.

        The study notes the reduction in spending gaps between the richest and poorest districts, from $1,199 per student in 1990 to $757 in 2000.

        Kentucky's state testing system shows improvements from students around the state, and 19 percent more students are taking the ACT — a step toward college — than a decade ago.

        Where Kentucky needs work, according to the study:

        • It has not kept funding promises, increasing education spending by 2.8 percent last year and by 2.7 percent next year.

        • Many academic reforms are not showing up in classrooms, partly because of lax efforts to improve teacher quality.

        However, several Northern Kentucky districts are taking steps to improve teachers. Campbell County Schools now offer workshops in curriculum and instruction for new teachers, spokesman Chris Gramke said. “Over the past three years we've seen in our district an influx of professional development opportunities aimed at continuing and improving teacher quality.”

        The district and state also are seeing more teachers get National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification.

        Education Week and school re formers say there could be backlash if states continue to hold students to higher standards but don't offer them help to reach those goals.

        They might face an erosion of public support for the school- reform movement, which seeks to improve learning by raising academic standards and imposing more accountability.

        Forty-nine states have established standards in at least some subjects; another 27 now rate schools based on their performance. The report gives states an overall grade of C for their efforts to raise standards and bring greater accountability to their schools.

        Maryland and New York were standouts, awarded grades of A. Both established clear academic standards in English and math for elementary, middle school and high school students.

        On the other end of the spectrum, Tennessee, Minnesota, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Montana and Iowa flunked, according to the Education Week analysis.

       Andrea Tortora contributed to this story.


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