JEFFERSON CITY _ Scolded by legislators to make their goals for students more understandable to the public, the state Education Department is revising its standards for measuring student learning.
The 1993 Outstanding Schools Act called for the development of statewide academic performance standards, curriculum frameworks and a new system of assessment in public schools. The act also stipulated that educators and citizens help to develop the reforms.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Department (DESE) said the standards are intended to improve the quality of instruction in public schools and raise the performance of students to a higher level.
But for several months, some Republican lawmakers and other critics have charged the department's plans amounted to an effort to impose "outcome-based education" on local school districts.
The issue came to a head in April when the department presented a draft set of standards to a commission that includes legislators formed to review the standards.
After encountering commission opposition, the department agreed to work on revisions and report back before the end of the year.
In May 1994, DESE introduced its first draft of the standards. Educators, citizens and community leaders had spent about six months working on them. Work groups composed of teachers set up several guidelines for developing the performance standards:
@ Students need to be "active" learners by applying their knowledge to practical situations rather than by memorizing isolated facts for a test.
@ Essential skills included in the standards need to be as applicable to first-graders as they are to high school seniors.
@ They need to be applicable to all class work in the schools, not just to one subject.
@ They need to be testable.
@ They need to be broad enough to allow for local control, but narrow enough to ensure everyone teaches them.
@ Students need to be confronted with "real-world" applications of what they learn.
The second draft of the standards was presented in February after several months of public hearings, review by teachers and two ad hoc committees, one composed of educators and the other of non-educators.
DESE said the standards are important because students traditionally have been expected to apply their factual knowledge to real situations. Businesses have responded by saying graduates aren't applying what they learned in school to the demands of the workplace. Work groups said students should have a knowledge base of factual information but also possess high-level skills like problem-solving.
The performance standards are divided into four categories. They said students should possess the knowledge and skills to be able to:
@ Construct meaning by gathering, understanding, analyzing and applying information, ideas and concepts from the disciplines.
@ Solve problems.
@ Communicate effectively.
@ Make responsible decisions individually and within groups as students, family members, workers and citizens.
The second step in fulfilling the requirements of the Outstanding Schools Act is developing the curriculum frameworks. These "frameworks" are guidelines for what students should be taught to reflect their mastery of the performance standards.
Under the law, each local district is forced to adopt an official curricula, although the frameworks adopted by the state department are optional. The frameworks are designed to be used as guidelines and are too broad to be adopted by local districts as curricula, DESE said.
The frameworks encompass six content areas: communication arts, mathematics, social studies, science, fine arts and health/physical education.
An initial draft of the curriculum frameworks was included in the February performance standards draft, but they are still being developed.
The final component of the educational reform effort is the assessment process. Legislators and national outcome-based education experts met at the beginning of March to kick off the testing discussion.
The Commission on Performance will review the revised standards before the end of the year, so test development has slowed, said Jim Friedebach, head of DESE's testing division.
"We need to know for sure what the performance standards are," Friedebach said. "Trying to be much more specific now is just looking at a crystal ball."
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