Northwest NEWS

January 22,2001


Parents Smile on Schools' Approach to Standards

by Karen Lytle Blaha
   The academic standards efforts of public schools have sustained steady scrutiny and vociferous voices of critics.
   During the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory's Education Now and In the Future conference, two sides of standards and testing were aired vigorously.
   Alfie Kohn, a well-known and controversial author, advocated throwing out standards and testing impediments to learning; Sam Stringfield, principal researcher at Johns Hopkins University Center for the Social Organization of Schools, pointed to flat academic achievement during the past 30 years, and predicted the demands for academic achievement will only intensify in a new and global economy.
   Although the spotlight on standards has been sometimes withering, it seems that parents think that schools have been doing a pretty good job of putting academic standards in place.
   Public Agenda, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, research organization, conducted a national survey of parents of public school students and found "broad support for the way higher academic standards are being put in place."
   Eighty-two percent of the parents who knew their school is implementing standards said that the job has been "careful and reasonable."
   Even so, according to the survey 78 percent of the parents agree that "it's wrong to use the results of just one test to decide whether a student gets promoted or graduates."
   An interesting aspect of the recently released survey is how the parents said they felt about the school experiences of their child.
   The great majority of parents did not think that teachers were putting on too much academic pressure, or that their child had too much homework, or that schools were failing to promote help for struggling students.
   Only 12 percent said that questions on their child's standardized tests were unfair or hard; 18 percent thought there was too much focus on the standardized tests to the detriment of real learning.
   In another report, this one from the National Association of State Boards of Education, standards were given a "stay the course" charge. The study is called Failure Is Not an Option: The Next Stage of Education Reform.
   According to writer Julie Blair in Education Week, "The study urges state schools to view the debate over increasing academic standards as a choice between promoting unprepared students to the next grade or holding them back."
   The report pointed out that neither social promotion nor retention is likely to result in increased student achievement.
   Instead, the course of action should include prevention, avoiding many of the K-12 problems through universal preschool that includes social and health services.
   Along with implementing academic standards, says the report, goes the need to keep a check on student progress and providing help to the students who need it.
   On the list of recommendations are "providing local districts and schools the flexibility to structure curriculum, craft instructional practices, and manage classroom time; allocating state aid for high-quality professional development for teachers; and restructuring high schools to fit the needs of all students," Blair reports.
   Karen Lytle Blaha is a writer for the Northwest Regional Education Library, a nonprofit institution working with schools and communities in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.