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
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were focused on minimum requirements and states there should be a continuum of learning, and not an "incoherent outdated patch work quilt" (p. 7).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). The 2008 report attests that, 24 states have set the standards so low that students could not even reach the most basic level on the NAEP assessment. The 2008 report card on the reforms recommended by A Nation at Risk gave the Standards area a grade of F.
Cronin, Dahlin, Adkins, and Kingsbury (2007) in a recent study of states' expectations for proficiency in comparing the rigor of standards and proficiency, state that the entire rationale for standards-based reform was to make expectations for student learning more rigorous and uniform. The closing sentence in the study summarizes the findings by stating that not only has the rigor of standards and proficiency set forth by the states not happened, but the present status indicates this movement is now as far as ever from achieving its original objective. This is not a new phenomenon. Webb (1999) concludes in a study of the alignment of standards and assessments in four states that the structure of the standards and assessments vary greatly among the states and that a high percentage of the standards and assessments failed to achieve depth of knowledge consistency. He also concluded that specific feedback should be provided to states to improve the alignment process.
It appears that because of low expectations and low level standards set forth by the states, advanced learners become at risk for under achievement the day they enter the schoolhouse door. Tomlinson (2002) suggests that the No Child Left Behind act is aiming the nation's attention and resources toward those students who are not proficient and trying to move these students toward proficiency. She claims at the present time there is no incentive for schools to attend to the academic growth of students after they attain proficiency or to challenge those students who far exceed proficiency and move them on to higher levels of learning. Porter and Polikoff (2007) expressed similar concerns regarding the NCLB focus on raising the average achievement levels and doing so at the expense of the students who are at the top (advanced learners) and the bottom of the achievement distribution. They claim that because schools and districts are assessed on percent proficient, teachers are motivated to work with the …
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Publication information: Article title: Are State and National Standards Leaving the Advanced Learners Behind? the Crisis Ahead. Contributors: Watkins, Sandra - Author, Sheng, Zhaohui - Author. Journal title: Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table. Publication date: Summer 2008. Page number: Not available. © 2008 Forum on Public Policy. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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