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Thinking About Curriculum (ASCD)
Thinking About Curriculum (ASCD)
Thinking About Curriculum (ASCD)
Thinking About Curriculum (ASCD)
Thinking About Curriculum (ASCD)
Thinking About Curriculum (ASCD)
Thinking About Curriculum (ASCD)
Thinking About Curriculum (ASCD)
Thinking About Curriculum (ASCD)
Thinking About Curriculum (ASCD)
Thinking About Curriculum (ASCD)
Thinking About Curriculum (ASCD)
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Thinking About Curriculum (ASCD)

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  • 1. webserver3.ascd.org http://webserver3.ascd.org/handbook/demo/curricrenew/pocr/sectioni.htmlThinking About Curriculum I. Thinking About CurriculumEverywhere today, curriculum planners are being asked to determine how to implement statestandards and other issues when addressing their curricula. But how to go about that? The intent ofthis revised introductory chapter is to provide an overview of curriculum, so that the subject-specificchapters that follow can be viewed from a broader perspective. The chapter begins by providing aknowledge base for the process of developing curricula. The chapter also analyzes curriculum workat the state, school district, school, and classroom levels. An additional section, Putting Standardsto Work in Schools, has been included in this revised chapter to outline the ways in which standardscan be incorporated into curricula (see pages 39-57).Curriculum ConceptsWhile curriculum planners have tried for decades to define curriculum—often with very littleguidance—two approaches can resolve the debate. The first is to use a simple definition thatreflects how most educational leaders use the term: Curriculum is the skills and knowledge thatstudents are to learn. A more complex approach is to analyze the several sources of curriculum;from this perspective there are eight different kinds: The recommended curriculum derives from experts in the field. Almost every discipline- based professional group has promulgated curriculum standards for its field. Kendall and Marzanos comprehensive report Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education, 2nd Edition (1997) is an excellent compilation of these standards. The written curriculum is found in the documents produced by the state, the school system, the school, and the classroom teacher, specifying what is to be taught. At the district level, the documents usually include a curriculum guide and a scope-and-sequence chart; many school systems make their curriculum documents available though their databases and the Internet. The written curriculum also includes materials developed by classroom teachers. The written curriculum is the one usually meant by leaders who say, "Were going to develop a mathematics curriculum." The supported curriculum is the one for which there are complimentary instructional materials available, such as textbooks, software, and multimedia resources. The tested curriculum is the one embodied in tests developed by the state, school system, and teachers. The term "test" is used broadly here to include standardized tests, competency tests, and performance assessments. The taught curriculum is the one that teachers actually deliver. Researchers have pointed out that there is enormous variation in the nature of what is actually taught, despite the superficial appearance of uniformity (Gehrke, Knapp, & Sirotnik, 1992). The learned curriculum is the bottom-line curriculum—what students learn. Clearly it is the most important of all.Two other types of curriculum—although not explicit and visible in school curriculum documents,materials, and tests—are also worth noting:
  • 2. The hidden curriculum (a term coined by Jackson, 1968) is the unintended curriculum-what students learn from the schools culture and climate. It includes such elements as the use of time, allocation of space, funding for programs and activities, and disciplinary policies and practices. For example, if an elementary school allocates 450 minutes each week to reading and 45 minutes to art, the unintended message to students is that "art doesnt matter." The excluded curriculum is what has been left out, either intentionally or unintentionally. Eisner (1979) terms this the "null curriculum," since it is not readily apparent. For example, U.S. history curricula often have omitted or covered only briefly such topics as the labor movement, the importance of religion in American life, or the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Gehrke, Knapp, and Sirotnik (1992) point out that the excluded curriculum is "powerful by virtue of its absence" (p. 53).Interactions of Curriculum TypesHow do these curriculum types interact? The research literature and experience working witheducation leaders and school systems on curriculum development suggest the following: The recommended curriculum in general has little impact on the written curriculum and perhaps less of an effect on the classroom teacher. The recommendations of subject matter experts and policymakers regarding curriculum content usually have had little influence on schools. A notable recent exception are the recommendations offered by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (1989), which seem to have influenced the mathematics curriculum of many school systems and have been positively received by most math teachers. The written curriculum has only a moderate influence on the taught curriculum. Most experienced teachers review the curriculum guide at the start of the year and then put it aside as they weigh other factors in deciding what to teach. They tend to give greater attention to such factors as students interests, their own assessment of what has worked in the past, and what will be on the state and district tests. The tested curriculum seems to have the strongest influence on the curriculum actually taught. In an era of accountability, teachers are understandably concerned about how their students perform on tests. Much classroom time is spent on developing test-wiseness and on practicing questions similar to those that will appear on district, state, and national tests. And in almost every class, students ask the perennial question: "Will this be on the test?" There is a positive side to this emphasis on tests, when they take the form of performance assessments. Gooding (1994) determined that teachers using performance assessments incorporated the use of research-based teaching behaviors more frequently than those relying on traditional forms of evaluation. Note, however, that a recent study concluded that students in states with mandatory high school graduation tests achieved less on a test of academic performance than students in states with lower-stakes test programs (Neill, 1998). The supported curriculum continues to have a strong influence on the taught curriculum, especially for elementary teachers, who teach four or five subjects. The textbook is often their major source of content knowledge. There is a significant gap between the taught curriculum and the learned curriculum; students do not always learn what they are taught. Several factors account for the gap: the teachers failure to make the curriculum meaningful and challenging or to monitor student learning; and the students low level of motivation, cognitive abilities, and short attention spans. As mentioned previously, the hidden and excluded curricula have a powerful influence on students perceptions. Every day students are exposed to the hidden and excluded curriculum and internalize their messages. Thus, if the school systems leaders speak about the importance of physical education but allocate only 45 minutes per week to that subject in the
  • 3. elementary grades, the message that delivers is that physical education does not matter, relatively speaking.Although all these types of curricula are important, curriculum leaders should focus on the learnedcurriculum, emphasizing the importance of implementing the written curriculum and helping teachersclose the gap between the taught and the learned curricula.Curriculum QualityWhat constitutes a high-quality curriculum? In one sense the question cannot be answeredempirically, since the question is value-laden. If curriculum leaders believe a narrowly focusedcurriculum that deals only with the "basics" is most desirable, then they will argue for the merits ofsuch a curriculum. On the other hand, if they believe in a comprehensive curriculum that dealsbroadly with life-related issues, then they will advocate such an approach. This division cannotalways be reconciled by turning to the research. There are, however, some tentative findingssuggesting that students learn more in schools that emphasize a curriculum focused more sharplyon academic courses (Lee, Croninger, & Smith, 1997).Putting the value issue aside, here are several research-based guidelines for developing a high-quality curriculum. 1. Structure the curriculum so that it allows students and teachers to study in greater depth some of the most important topics and skills. In other words, dont emphasize coverage of too many curriculum objectives and topics at the expense of depth. Several studies conclude that focusing in depth on a smaller number of skills and concepts will lead to greater understanding and retention and will better support efforts to teach problem solving and critical thinking. (See, for example, Knapp and Associates, 1991; McDonnell, 1989; Brophy, 1990.) 2. Structure the curriculum so that it calls on students to use various learning strategies to solve problems. Note that this does not mean having students learn generic thinking skills. Although the initial interest in critical thinking led many innovators to teach isolated "thinking skills," research in cognitive psychology now indicates clearly that such skills are better learned and retained when they are embedded in units that deal with complex meaningful problems in a particular context. (For more detailed discussion of this issue, see the volume edited by Resnick & Klopfer, 1989; and Brooks & Brooks, 1993.) 3. Structure and deliver the curriculum so that all students acquire both the essential skills and knowledge of the subjects. For many years educators foolishly argued about the primacy of content versus process. Recent advances in cognitive psychology indicate clearly that such a dichotomy is dysfunctional. Students can solve complex problems in science, for example, only when they are given access to the knowledge required to solve them. Cognitive psychologists distinguish between inert knowledge— knowledge that is not used—and generative knowledge, which is used in solving meaningful problems. For example, if students learn where the capital of Pennsylvania is and keep that in memory, it is inert knowledge. If they learn where the capital is and use that knowledge to write to the governor, then it becomes generative. Generative knowledge is called to mind when it is used in solving problems. 4. Structure the curriculum so that it responds to students individual differences. Three types of responsiveness are recommended. First, the curriculum should use varied modes of representation—the ways people display or transfer knowledge. Most educators emphasize verbal modes. Some innovative educators add visual means such as flow charts and web diagrams. The curriculum also should be organized so that the teacher can provide a high degree of
  • 4. structure at the beginning of the year by giving cues, suggestions, and explanations. Then, as the year progresses, the teacher can let students solve problems on their own. Finally, the curriculum should recognize the multiple intelligences students have, rather than stressing only the verbal and mathematical. Such adjustments are designed to accommodate significant learner differences (Wang, Haertel, & Walberg, 1990; Gardner, 1997). 5. Organize the curriculum so that it provides for multiyear, sequential study, not "stand-alone" courses. While there may be some value in offering such courses for enrichment purposes at all levels, McDonnells research (1989) stresses that multiyear sequential curricula will have greater payoffs than single courses that are not part of an overall program of studies. 6. Emphasize both the academic and the practical. Johnson (1989) makes this point about the science curriculum: "Generating concepts in the mind . . . should be related where possible to familiar experiences. Experience is the application of understanding" (p. 9). This linking of academic and applied knowledge should occur throughout the curriculum, not just in "tech prep" courses. 7. Selectively develop integrated curricula. Numerous studies have concluded that the use of integrated curricula has resulted in better achievement and improved attitudes toward schooling. Leaders should proceed with caution, however, since experts have expressed concern about teachers pursuit of integration at the expense of other goals. The principal and the teachers together can decide the type and extent of curriculum integration for their school, using guidelines provided by the district. (For further analysis of integration, see Putting Standards to Work in Schools on page 39.) 8. Focus on the achievement of a limited number of essential curriculum objectives, rather than trying to cover too many (Cotton, 1999). Keep in mind the importance of depth. 9. Maintain an emphasis on the learned curriculum. As Schmoker (1996) notes, school leaders should be primarily concerned with results—improved learning for all students. The written curriculum—whether integrated or subject-focused—is only a means to an end: high-quality learning for all students.Current Trends Influencing Curriculum DevelopmentBefore discussing the structures and processes for renewing the curriculum, its important to notesome significant features of the context for curriculum development. Many developments and trendsin K–12 education are altering the landscape for curriculum work. Although history shows that it isoften hard to predict which changes will have a substantial impact on schools and which will turn outto be nothing more than fads, it is worthwhile to assess current trends as part of curriculum renewal.Following are some of the major trends that can influence curriculum, based on history and currentliterature. (As part of your curriculum work, you may want to create your own list of current trends,paying particular attention to trends in your area.)Increasing Importance of National and State StandardsAt the time of this writing, there is considerable debate about national standards. Although almostall national organizations representing the various subject areas have issued voluntary contentstandards, policy battles over the proper federal role have stalled some of the most ambitious plansfor implementing them.Continuing dissatisfaction with student achievement, especially as reflected in the news media, islikely to result in more discussion of the proper role of national standards. In a well-balancedanalysis, Smith, Fuhrman, and ODay (1994) summarize the pros and cons of national standards.Advocates, they say, assert that standards will
  • 5. Ensure that all citizens will have the shared knowledge and values needed to make democracy work. Result in greater efficiency, since all 50 states can draw upon the national standards. Encourage state and local boards to raise their standards. Improve the quality of schooling. Ensure a large measure of educational equity.Also, international comparisons indicate that teachers in nations with strong central control of thecurriculum reported greater consistency in what should be taught and what they did teach whencompared with teachers in nations with greater local control, such as the United States (Cohen &Spillane, 1992). That variation in consistency is probably one of the factors accounting forinternational differences in achievement.Still, Smith and colleagues note several disadvantages emphasized by the critics of nationalstandards: 1. Common standards tend to reflect minimum skills and knowledge, which results in lowering the entire system. 2. The development of standards at the national level will draw resources from state and local efforts. 3. National standards can become a de facto curriculum that will inhibit local creativity in curriculum development. 4. Standards alone will have no effect on student achievement unless significant resources are provided to local school systems (an unlikely development given attempts to downsize the federal government).Kendall and Marzano (1997) raise some practical cautions regarding national standards. Theirreport, a systematic compilation of the national standards that have been developed by variousprofessional organizations, suggests that implementing all of the emerging recommendations wouldbe an impossible task for curriculum leaders. According to their analysis, a student would have tomaster three "benchmarks" every week to achieve all the standards set by the professional groups.(A benchmark is a school-level or grade-level objective derived from the standards.) Clearly, then,developing curricula informed by national standards will prove much more difficult than simplyincorporating the recommendations of subject matter experts.While the debate rages regarding the desirability of national standards, there appears to begrowing consensus on the desirability of state standards. A survey by Pechman and Laguarda(1993) indicated that 45 states had developed or were developing curriculum frameworks; as of thiswriting, only Iowa lacks curriculum standards in mathematics and English language arts. And thoseframeworks, unlike the general guidelines that marked past efforts, seem to be detailed (somewould say prescriptive) and backed by state-developed tests. Smith and colleagues (1994) reportthat preliminary results from California suggest that "ambitious content standards reinforced byassessment and other policies have the potential to improve schooling" (p. 21). The evidence onteacher attitudes is somewhat inconclusive. Two studies suggest that most teachers have negativeattitudes about externally imposed curriculum standards (Rosenholtz, 1987; McNeil, 1986). On theother hand, another study of teachers in six states discovered little evidence that teachers wereunhappy with state and district standard setting (Porter, Smithson, & Osthoff, 1994).Several experts have noted problems with states setting standards in curriculum. (See especiallyFuhrman, 1994.) The standards are set by state officials who are far removed from local schools
  • 6. and free from the burden of accountability. Curriculum standards are often not supported with othersystemic changes, such as new approaches to teacher education. Thus state initiatives may beseen as fragmented and often contradictory. And at a time of limited resources and theaccompanying downsizing of staffs, most state departments of education do not have thewherewithal to help local districts implement state standards.This trend has several implications for curriculum workers. First, developers at the state level shouldrecognize the need for comprehensive support of the educators they serve. At the district level,developers should create curricula that address such state standards, while still providing forcurriculum development at the school and classroom levels. Finally, school administrators andteachers should find ways to make the district curriculum relevant to the students. (For additionaldetails, see the Putting Standards to Work in Schools section on page 39.)Increasing Interest in Constructivist CurriculumConstructivism is a theory of learning based on the principle that learners construct meaning fromwhat they experience; thus, learning is an active, meaning-making process. Although constructivismseems to have made its strongest impact on science and mathematics curricula, leaders in otherfields are attempting to embody in curriculum units the following principles: Units should be problem-focused, requiring the student to solve open-ended contextualized problems. Units should enable the students to have access to research and other knowledge in solving problems (generative knowledge). Learning strategies (such as the use of matrices and web diagrams) should be taught in the context of solving problems. The teacher should provide the necessary scaffolding or structure throughout units. Because learning is a social process, teachers should ensure that students spend at least part of their time in group formats, such as cooperative learning. Units should conclude by requiring the student to demonstrate learning in some authentic manner.In developing a constructivist unit, curriculum leaders should find two sources useful if greater depthis needed: Glatthorn (1994a) and Brooks and Brooks (1993).Developing New Approaches in Vocational Education Figure 1. Generic Skills For a Changing Workplace Basic Skills 1. Reading with comprehension and critical judgment. 2. Writing clearly and effectively. 3. Mastering mathematical computations 4. Performing practical life skills (e.g., reading a schedule or filling out an application).
  • 7. 5. Learning how to learn. Complex Reasoning and Information Processing Skills (Presented as a problem-solving process.) 1. Recognizing a problem. 2. Analyzing the problem. 3. Generating solution paths. 4. Evaluating the paths and monitoring implementation. 5. Repairing, using alternative actions. 6. Reflecting about the process and the solution. Attitudes and Dispositions 1. Ability to make decisions. 2. Willingness to take responsibility for ones decisions. 3. Willingness to be bold in decision making. 4. Learning the parameters of the workplace. 5. Cooperating with others. (Adapted and paraphrased from stasz et al., 1990.)In the face of drastic changes in the economy, the workplace, and the workforce, forward-lookingcareer educators are moving toward new approaches to curriculum. Three developments seemsignificant: Emphasizing generic skills. While almost all career educators see a continuing need to train students in career-specific skills so they can find employment upon graduation, there is increased interest in generic skills that are broadly transferable to almost any career. Perhaps one of the best formulations of these generic skills is that produced by Stasz, McArthur, Lewis, and Ramsey (1990), whose formulation is shown in Figure 1. As can be seen from this list, the intent is to equip all students with skills that will enable them to function in a changing economy and a changing workplace. Integrating academic and career education. In an attempt to reduce or eliminate the dysfunctional barriers between academic and career curricula, some experts are attempting to bring about a greater integration. Several models have been identified by Grubb, Davis, and Lum (1991). 1. Incorporating more academic content in career courses. Career instructors incorporate academic content such as reading, writing, science, and mathematics into their courses. This has always been done informally by career teachers, but there is now interest in developing more systematic models. 2. Combining vocational and academic teachers in a team. In some schools with a career focus, one math teacher and one English teacher join a team of vocational teachers, presenting special lessons, working with individual students in a pull-out remedial program, teaching an applied class, and developing materials for the career teachers
  • 8. that reinforce related academic skills. 3. Making the academic curriculum more career-relevant. Academic teachers incorporate career applications wherever desirable: reading literature about work, using job-related writing exercises, and using job-related examples from occupational areas. In some cases this approach is more formal in the development and implementation of "applied academics" courses. Three of the most widely applied academic courses are Principles of Technology (an applied physics course), Applied Mathematics, and Applied Communication, all published by the Agency for Instructional Technology (1988). 4. Aligning career and the academic curricula. This approach coordinates or aligns closely the content of the career courses and the academic courses; links between the two fields are thereby strengthened and clearly delineated. Some use "bridge" assignments that require the student to complete a project integrating career and academic knowledge. 5. Using the senior project as a form of integration. In one school, for example, the students project consists of a written report, a physical representation of some sort (usually completed in the vocational shop), and an oral presentation. 6. Developing an "academy" model. Academies usually operate as schools within schools. Usually, four teachers collaborate in an academy—one in math, one in English, one in science, and one in the career specialty that is the core of the academy, such as electronics. Other subjects are taken in the regular high school as electives. The academy teachers work with each other and a single group of students over a multiyear period, and the academies establish close ties with local businesses and industries. 7. Developing occupational high schools and magnet schools. These magnet schools are similar to academies, except that they make up the entire school. Examples are Aviation High School in New York and the High School for Health Professions in Houston, Tex. This trend in vocational education also has two implications for curriculum developers. First, they should ensure that the vocational curriculum is based on a model that recognizes the growing importance of the community college. Thus, the vocational curriculum should extend from grades 9 to 14. Also, the vocational curriculum should be a means for integrating the vocational and the academic. Developing integrated curricula. Educators seem especially interested in the development and use of curriculum integration as a means of increasing student interest and student knowledge (Beane, 1995). Although the term "curriculum integration" encompasses a variety of approaches, it is used here to denote the development of curriculum units that combine content from two or more disciplines. The growing number of conferences and publications on curriculum development suggests that the movement toward integration is having its chief impact at the middle school level. School systems need to develop subject-focused guides that teachers can use for integrating the classroom curriculum if they wish to. Although research generally supports the use of integrated curricula, some problems are associated with their use. Gardner and Boix-Mansilla (1994) note that excessive integration can result in the slighting of content knowledge, which is essential for problem-solving. Roths (1994) study raised the same concern. And Brophy and Alleman (1991) observed that integrated units were often poorly designed collections of activities. Because of these concerns, each school should decide to what extent and in what ways it will integrate its curriculum.Institutionalization of Technology
  • 9. Except for some critics of technology (for example, Apple, 1988), there is general agreementamong educators that schools will continue to increase their use of sophisticated technologies.Schools have become so comfortable with using the computer to manage the curriculum and tofacilitate student learning that discussions of whether they should adopt these technologies havegiven way to questions of how they will use them. In any case, technology should be seen as a wayof supporting curriculum objectives rather than as an add-on.Whose Responsibility is Curriculum?A cold war is being fought over the control of curriculum. State departments of education arebecoming much more active in this area, developing detailed standards and related high-stakestests. At the same time, schools using site-based management are exercising their authority todevelop their own curricula. Districts continue to assert their authority over the curriculum, andclassroom teachers close the door and teach what they wish to teach.Because each of these parties has a part to play in the process, curriculum developers shouldfoster cooperation among them. As Fuhrman and Elmore (1990) point out, curriculum work isperformed most effectively when each level of authority exercises its legitimate role in acollaborative manner.Figure 2 summarizes the recommended functions for each level. Obviously the allocation of thesefunctions should be reviewed closely and critically. Although this breakdown is based on knowledgeof the literature and experience in consulting with personnel at all four levels, the specific functionsundertaken at each level should be determined by state officials, district leaders, principals, andteachers through consultation. Several factors will affect how these functions are best allocated in aparticular school district: the extent of state control; the school districts size; staffing in the centraloffice; the principals competence as curriculum leaders; and the ability of teachers to function ascurriculum leaders. Thus district and school leaders should view the analysis shown in Figure 2 onlyas a starting point. Figure 2. Recommended Allocations of Curriculum Functions State Functions 1. Develop state frameworks, including broad goals, general standards, and graduation requirements. 2. Develop state tests and other performance measures in required academic subjects. 3. Provide needed resources to local districts. 4. Evaluate state frameworks. District Functions 1. Develop and implement curriculum-related policies. 2. Provide fiscal support for curriculum. 3. Develop a vision of a high-quality curriculum. 4. Develop educational goals aligned with state goals. 5. Identify the core program of studies for each level of schooling.
  • 10. 6. Develop the documents for a mastery curriculum for each subject, including scope-and-sequence charts and curriculum guides. A mastery curriculum is one that specifies only those essential outcomes that are likely to be tested and require explicit instruction. 7. Select instructional materials. 8. Develop district curriculum-based tests and other performance measures to supplement state tests. 9. Provide fiscal and other resources needed at the school level, including technical assistance. 10. Evaluate the curriculum. 11. Develop the structures to facilitate community and teacher input into the curriculum. 12. Provide staff development programs for school administrators.School Functions 1. Develop the schools vision of a high-quality curriculum, building on the districts vision. 2. Supplement the districts educational goals. 3. Develop its own program of studies within district guidelines. 4. Develop a learning-centered schedule. 5. Determine nature and extent of curriculum integration. 6. Provide staff development for all teachers who will use the curriculum guide. 7. Align the written, tested, supported, taught, and learned curricula. 8. Monitor the implementation of the curriculum. 9. Evaluate the curriculum.Classroom Functions 1. Enrich the curriculum. 2. Develop long-term planning calendars to implement the curriculum. 3. Develop units of study. 4. Individualize the curriculum. 5. Evaluate the curriculum. 6. Implement the curriculum, helping all students achieve mastery.
  • 11. One way to analyze the curriculum responsibilities of each group is to determine whether they arebeing productive at every level. School leaders should be especially concerned with the dynamicbalance of school district, school, and classroom functions, because they can have relatively littleinfluence on state policies and standards. Even in a state with an active department of education,curriculum leaders should work with teachers and principals to ensure that meaningful work is beingaccomplished at the other three levels.State Curriculum FunctionsAs noted earlier, states have been providing more and more curricular guidance to local districtsand schools. As these shifts occur, it is important to be familiar with the roles and functions of state-level work on curriculum.Four functions seem to be essential at the state level: 1. States are responsible for developing curriculum frameworks. The term is used here to mean a set of statements guiding the standards for and development of curricula, along with a general description of the states assessment program. Disagreement exists, of course, with respect to the nature and components of state frameworks. Curry and Temple (1992) give the following reasons for criticizing "traditional" frameworks: They are too traditional in content and perspective, they are too prescriptive, their elements are not related to each other, they do not address systemic reform, they are too linear, and they are presented in a "top-down" mode. In the place of such traditional frameworks, they propose "progressive" approaches characterized by emphasizing a new view of how students learn and by supporting integration of all components of the curriculum. Curry and Temple argue for comprehensive frameworks that may include all of the following components: philosophy, rationale, and goals; learner and school outcomes; content standards; assessment and student performance standards; themes and concepts of the disciplines; strategies for professional development and instruction; instructional technology strategies; sample programs and curriculum units; instructional materials criteria; and interdisciplinary strategies. Less comprehensive frameworks usually include only three elements: the broad educational goals that schools are expected to achieve through all programs in 13 years of schooling; graduation requirements in terms of credits and competencies; and general standards for each required subject. Several arguments are offered in support of a minimalist approach— specifically that it gives districts greater autonomy in responding to local needs and strengths while providing sufficient guidance from the state perspective. It also seems to facilitate district curriculum development. Also, comprehensive state frameworks are often confusing and counterproductive. Finally, the minimalist approach is more efficient in relation to the optimal use of state resources at a time of downsizing in public agencies. 2. States are responsible for developing and implementing tests and other performance measures. A limited approach is best: States should focus their assessment efforts on the subject areas of English language arts, including reading and writing; social studies; science; and mathematics. Assessment should be limited to the three transition points: grades 5, 8, and 12. Such a limited approach would give state officials, district leaders, and the public sufficient information to make major decisions, without devoting too much time and energy to testing. One major study of the effects of statewide competency assessments concluded that such tests foster harmful instructional practices—such as retention and misuse of special education placement—while not encouraging school improvement (Allington & McGill- Franzen, 1992). Finally, a recent study concluded that high-stakes testing, such as tests that students must pass to graduate, does not improve student achievement (Neill, 1998).
  • 12. In designing and implementing such assessment systems, both state and local leaders should make appropriate use of authentic assessments. There is widespread interest in moving from paper-and-pencil objective tests to such alternative measures as demonstrations of learning, projects, open-ended problem solving, and portfolios. In their review of the research on portfolios, Herman and Winters (1994) concluded that assessment portfolios held much promise—if developers achieved high levels of technical quality, if educators ensured that the results were not used to perpetuate inequities, and if the developers and users confronted honestly the demands that authentic assessment placed on evaluators, principals, and teachers. 3. States should provide school districts with the resources needed to develop and implement high-quality curricula: Adequate fiscal resources and effective technical assistance seem to be the most important. 4. State frameworks should be carefully evaluated while they are being produced and after they have been disseminated. Reviewers should consider both professional soundness and feasibility. Three reports evaluating state standards should be useful: Joftus and Berman, 1998; Stotsky, 1997; and Gandal, 1995. If these are the appropriate functions for states, what are the roles and responsibilities of educators at the district and school levels? The next few sections of this chapter of the Handbook provide some suggestions and strategies for answering that important question.Copyright © 2001 by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.We encourage subscribers to theASCD Curriculum Handbook to take full advantage of the contents of the Curriculum Handbook, within theseguidelines: If you have questions about the Curriculum Handbook distribution policy, please contact us athandbook@ascd.org. Customer Service • Contact Us • Join Us Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) 1703 N. Beauregard Street, Alexandria, VA 22311 USA • 1-800-933-2723 • 1-703-578-9600 Copyright © ASCD, All Rights Reserved • Privacy Statement

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