"Mastery' Tests Preceded Outcome-Based Movement

Article excerpt

Outcome-based education grew out of the "mastery learning" movement that began in the 1970s and spawned minimum-competency tests in many states.

Missouri designed its Basic Essential Skills Test to test eighth-graders on facts that experts believed they should know. The media regularly reported scores by school district, touching off a debate over how to interpret scores and whether teachers were teaching to the test.

The Missouri Mastery Achievement Test replaced BEST about five years ago. It's given at several grade levels and is scored differently, making it more difficult to compare districts' performances.

In Washington, meanwhile, a presidential panel declared in a study called "A Nation At Risk" that students were failing to graduate with adequate job skills and lagged behind students in many other countries.

In 1991, President George Bush announced a national effort to improve education, which he called "America 2000." Bush's plan called for experimental schools that would use new teaching methods, voluntary national tests and six educational goals. The goals ranged from "ensuring that every child starts school ready to learn" to "raising high school graduation rates to 90 percent."

Many of the elements in Bush's plan reflected the approach known as outcome-based education, or OBE. A bipartisan group of politicians - including John Ashcroft, then Missouri's governor - embraced the plan. Ashcroft attended the presidential announcement in Washington.

At home, Ashcroft campaigned unsuccessfully for Proposition B, a tax package that reflected many of Bush's proposals. Ashcroft, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate, says he has no position on OBE.

Bush's efforts prompted schools and states to embrace outcome-based education as a reform tool, people on both sides of the debate say. Many national business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, praised the approach as guaranteeing that high school graduates would be equipped to live and work in the 21st century.

Many consider Bill Spady the founding father of outcome-based education. …