Are State and National Standards Leaving the Advanced Learners Behind? the Crisis Ahead

By Watkins, Sandra; Sheng, Zhaohui | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Are State and National Standards Leaving the Advanced Learners Behind? the Crisis Ahead


Watkins, Sandra, Sheng, Zhaohui, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction

The genesis of the standards movement occurred when critics heralded the famous "A Nation At Risk" (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) report claiming the educational system in the United States of America was at risk and "being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity" (p. 1). The purpose of the report was to generate concern and reform and to renew a commitment of high quality schooling throughout the country. The report asserts that educational standards and expectations were focused on minimum requirements and states there should be a continuum of learning, and not an "incoherent outdated patch work quilt" (p. 7). One of the five major recommendations of the report focuses on standards and expectations and instructs educational institutions to adopt more rigorous and measurable standards and higher expectations. The advanced learner was also addressed in this document which cited that over one-half of the population of these students were not achieving comparable to their tested ability.

On January 8, 2002, President Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (Public Law 107-110). This law not only changed the role of the federal government in public school education, it dictated to the states that they were required to establish standards for learning and assessments to measure the achievement of those standards. States then became accountable to report their standards and assessment instruments to the federal government and were required to report to the public the results of their assessments in a report card format. District and school assessment scores are currently used to measure adequate yearly progress (AYP) for all public schools in the United States. These data are disaggregated by major ethnic/racial groups, economically disadvantaged, limited English proficiency (LEP) and students with disabilities. Schools and districts that do not meet the desired achievement proficiency results as stated by their state plan, receive some type of sanction.

The majority of states adopted state learning standards and developed state assessments or utilized norm-referenced national achievement tests to report the achievement results of students, schools, districts and the state. The state of Illinois adopted the Illinois Learning Standards in 1997, five years before the federal mandate. The Illinois Standards Achievement Test, the state assessment, measures individual student achievement on the Illinois Learning Standard in grades three through eight. It was first developed in 1997 and revised in 2006. Results are given to students, parents, and teachers and are available to the general public. Results are also aggregated by grade, school and the district.

Standards--The Advanced Learner

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the A Nation at Risk (1983) report, another document, A Stagnant Nation: Why American Students Are Still at Risk (Strong American Schools, 2008) was issued. The document evaluated selected reforms recommended by A Nation at Risk and found "stunningly few of the Commission's recommendations have actually been enacted" (p.3). The report asserts that key recommendations related to time, teaching, and standards have not been realized. The report states that the National Commission of 1983 recommended states and districts adopt more rigorous and measurable standards and expectations, and claimed that grades should reflect actual learning. According to the 2008 report, just the opposite has happened. "Students are earning better grades in "tougher" courses, yet actual learning is either stagnant or in decline. At the same time, states have failed to set rigorous academic standards in the lower grades" ((p. 4). The report also states that out of 32 states, none have set performance benchmarks for the 4t grade reading that are high enough to meet the proficient level on our nation's test, the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP).

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Are State and National Standards Leaving the Advanced Learners Behind? the Crisis Ahead
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