Tuesday, April 26, 2016
The following gigantic post is my thesis paper on an education reform program. Please be aware that at the time, the Common Core program was being run by the states and had no federal involvement. It was not the monstrosity we know and loathe today. Had it been allowed to continue as a state-run consortium, it might well have turned out much differently--we'll never know.
My hope is that this will not keep people from seeing anything else I have ever written. As I said, it is HUGE! If you want to see anything else, you'll have to scroll around quite a bit.
This paper is a policy proposal designed to return education to a system that produces mastery. As a teacher, that is a need I see every day. No child should be even one grade behind in any subject.
Well, read on and see what you think. (Also, please understand that the format in which you make citations for this type of paper doesn't translate well into the way blogs format text, so some of the citations might be a bit off as far as indentation and such is concerned. Oh well!)
An Educational Structure for the 21st Century
Making Competency the Goal of Education
Recent education reform movements have focused primarily on school and teacher accountability, but have not taken into account the accountability of the students themselves. Students are promoted socially without being required to master the content. This problem could be solved by a competency-based system in which students are arranged into classes by the content they need to master and are promoted after demonstrating mastery. Grade level content would be broken into shorter segments and divided by subject. Such a system would not have the psychological stigma attached to full-grade retention, and would allow for better individualization of lessons to meet student needs. It would also enable teachers to spend more time and energy at the level of the content they are teaching rather than spending it on remediation. This concept could be applied at a single school and, if successful, then become a state and/or national program. The wider the reach of the program, the easier it would be to implement. A competency-based model would not incur significant additional costs because the infrastructure needed to implement it is already in place.
Since the publication of A Nation At Risk in 1983, the perception that America is undergoing a crisis in education has been the norm. (Department of Education, 1983.) Various policies have been enacted in an attempt to solve this problem. Common national education and curriculum standards were proposed during the tenure of George H. W. Bush, but were rejected due to controversy over their treatment of history. (Ravitch, 2010.) During the tenure of his son, George W. Bush, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation was enacted and met with mixed degrees of success. (Ravitch, 2010.) The fact of the matter is that the United States still lags behind most of its international economic competitors in mathematics and science, which has troubling implications for its economic future. (Hechinger, 2010.) Something must be done to remedy the situation, but current methods are insufficient.
Schools are being held solely responsible for the academic achievement of students, a situation that is both unrealistic and ignorant of sociological reality. Students who come from households in which their parents are college educated do better than students from households in which no parent has such advantages, and who may well express a degree of antipathy toward school in general. (Ravitch, 2010.) Students reflect in their attitudes and behavior the attitudes and behavior they see at home. In dysfunctional environments, that which is modeled does not make educating the products of that environment an easy task. In more and more states, teachers who fail to overcome these obstacles are being punished with loss of employment and the constant stress of poor reviews. Schools are being shut down or replaced by charters in record numbers because of poor performance, even though such performance is often demographically predictable. Public education is in danger of being replaced by a for-profit system which has not proven any more capable at educating the students that public schools have been charged with failing. Schools and teachers are being held fully accountable for their performance and the performance of their students, no matter how reticent many of these may be to do the work required to learn or to behave in such a way as to facilitate optimal instruction. (Ravitch, 2010.) Something is missing in the current formula for reform, a critical element.
While the idea of accountability is a good one, placing the onus of responsibility for every child's outcome solely upon the shoulders of school administrators and teachers is an unworkable solution. Simply put, teachers cannot control every factor that determines the educational outcome for a child. Moreover, teachers have been denied traditional means of enforcing classroom compliance, making it increasingly difficult to motivate those children who are not intrinsically motivated. Those hostile to the educational environment are given no incentive to perform in the current system.
A competency-based model that structures classes based on specific educational needs and goals rather than age should replace the current model of elementary and middle school education. Each 180-day year should be divided into three sixty-day courses per subject, and successful completion of the objectives of each course should be a prerequisite for admission into the next. Advanced students should be able to take the end-of-unit test and, if successful, move through the curriculum at a faster pace. End-of-unit tests should replace state standardized tests as a means of assessing academic progress and measuring school efficacy. Research has demonstrated, as well, that students tend to socialize better with their intellectual peers than their age group. Students tend to have more interests in common with those who share similar aptitudes.
(Davidson and Davidson, 2004.)
An immense amount of literature has been written on the subject of education reform. Over the past decade, much of it has focused on the ideas of school choice and accountability and whether these measures are indeed working. The consensus of the literature is that while initial gains were made, they have reached a plateau. (Mathis, 2003.) Moreover, the incentives provided by the specific reforms enacted (No Child Left Behind) have caused states and local schools to find ways to cope rather than improve. This causes even the data indicating that growth has occurred to be dubious at best. (Richards, 2011.) At the same time, student accountability has been virtually erased as social promotion has become the norm in American schools. Literature on the subject indicates that measures such as tracking, similar in nature to what this project proposes, are indeed effective for many students, but must be implemented in a flexible manner to be effective. That is, students must be able to progress to a higher track once they have become proficient. This research is entirely compatible with this proposal. (Loveless, 2009.) Finally, the newest literature on the subject describes a system of common national standards for the core academic subjects. Such a system of standards would facilitate a system such as the one this paper endorses. (CCSSI.)
Much literature has been developed to discuss other recent reforms, and this can be useful in framing a new reform scheme. (Rohlfsen, 2009.) The psychological effects of ability grouping and achievement-based progression are discussed in many educational trade journals as well as psychological papers. The effects of grouping on pedagogy, especially as it pertains to meeting the individual needs of students, is useful in deciding how best to structure a competency-based model. (Aron and Zweig.) The strengths and weaknesses of various forms of proficiency assessment are also discussed frequently in the literature, and have been useful in determining the most useful ways in which assessments can be employed as a tool to promote competency.
Approach and Methodology
For any decision maker, the key in deciding whether a proposal is worthy of consideration and implementation lies in knowing what the problem is, whether the proposed solution will remedy that problem, and what secondary or long-term effects the proposal would have if implemented. In order to make such a decision about this proposal, certain questions must be answered. (Sowell, 2009.)
First, one must decide if there is indeed sufficient cause for concern in the field of public education as to warrant such a dramatic restructuring. Such data can be obtained in the form of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study results (TIMSS), which compare how the United States compares internationally in student achievement. Other data, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), can be used to determine the depth of the problem. Negative trends in the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) would also indicate the severity of the problem. Looking at such data indeed indicates that serious reform is warranted. (Peterson, 2003.)
The second thing one must know is whether significant progress is being made already, or whether a new course of action is needed. The United States government has enacted two recent reform measures, which overlap in time and implementation. It would be useful to look at the research and data on both the Goals 2000 program and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation to see if they have been effective. It would also be useful to analyze whether that effectiveness, if it exists, will indeed solve the problem at hand. That is, do Goals 2000 and NCLB focus on the correct issues, or do they instead target peripheral issues, which, while politically advantageous, will ultimately have little effect on net results?
The idea of a competency-based model of education is not new; indeed, the idea that students should be promoted regardless of competency is relatively modern. However, to assess whether such a model will improve the educational achievement of American students, it would be useful to analyze how such models have functioned both in the Unites States and elsewhere. While no nation has yet adopted a system structured in the way proposed in this project, many nations have policies that require some degree of competency for advancement. In Japan, end-of-term assessments determine not only which classes a student may take, but also which schools students may attend. (Rohlen, 1983.) These assessments measure student competence and have meaningful results, just as the model proposed in this project would. Analyzing the tests' effect on student performance would be useful in predicting how a competency-based education model would affect student effort and achievement. Similar structures in the education systems of other nations might also be compared in order to make predictions.
The long-term effects of the proposed reform are those that ought to be scrutinized most closely. Both Goals 2000 and NCLB have had short-term positive effects and long-term negative ones. Such effects were avoidable and were indeed foreseen by many even as the policies were being implemented. Diane Ravitch, the former assistant secretary of education under President George H. W. Bush, has analyzed the reasons why both of these programs had negative long-term impacts and how such might have been avoided. Her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education is a comprehensive and invaluable resource on the subject. A great deal of additional research exists to confirm her findings. Her conclusions boil down to the issue of incentives. Do Goals 2000 and NCLB create a set of incentives that lead to a superior education and better outcomes overall, or do they encourage a set of coping strategies that lead to an education which is both more narrow and more shallow than would otherwise be the case? To assess the effectiveness of a competency-based model of education, this question must be addressed as well.
Implications of Research
The research presented in this report confirms the idea that student grouping by age has met with limited success and is diminishing as a useful organizational tool in the modern era. The diversity of student backgrounds has amplified, and thus has the diversity of student needs. Current reforms, however, encourage uniformity that diminishes the ability of schools to address those needs. Age grouping ignores the biological differences that lead to disparate levels of student readiness, including the gifted that are often forced to endure years of unnecessary tedium in classes in which they are placed solely because of chronological age. Research also indicates that as social promotion has become more common and established in American schools, those students who come from less-advantaged homes have become less productive. A competence-based model would provide an incentive to such students to work toward self-improvement and greater achievement, something the current model does not provide. Students will advance in those subjects in which they achieve competency and not in others where they fail. In these subjects, they will be given more time and teaching to help them achieve mastery.
The purpose of this project is to analyze what is not working in current reforms and adapt the new reforms to meet those needs. It offers general structural guidelines and examples of how those might be applied. The intention of the project is not to completely lay out a national curriculum and testing plan, but to suggest the form such a plan might take in general if it were to be successful. The proposal is designed to specify enough for clarity while creating a framework rather than a wholesale set of curricula and assessments. In other words, it is important to keep in mind that the scope of the project is limited to creating a procedural model rather than laying out exactly how such a model should be applied in every case.
The result of implementing this proposal would be an outcome-oriented education system that addresses a comprehensive curriculum, specific targets for academic skills and knowledge, and differences in students' needs and abilities. Age groups would still structure schools, but classes would be decided by specific curricular targets stemming from the competency students have already demonstrated. Students would rise from level to level by mastering the content of each in turn. Because each subject would be taught and assessed separately, students would be free to accelerate in those areas in which they are stronger and spend additional time on those areas in which they have need. Students would arrive at the secondary level prepared to succeed.
Several factors are critical if this plan is to succeed. The government must be willing to admit that current reforms are not succeeding and are in fact having detrimental effects on both low-performing and high-performing schools. (Ravitch, 2010.) State education agencies must be willing to make widespread and comprehensive changes in the way schools are structured. Legislation must be passed to loosen the grip of standardized state testing on education and allow for a new structure to be created; annual high-stakes assessments reinforce the current system. Ideally, a set of common curricula would be available so that all states and localities could devise common assessments that would allow for future comparison and refinement. If the federal government imposed such assessments, there would likely be an outcry of opposition. However, if a gathering of state agencies made such decisions together outside of federal control, such measures would likely be embraced. All of these factors would be needed to implement a competency-based education model uniformly across the nation. In order to accomplish this, state agencies would have to meet and agree on a common set of curriculum standards, then devise a common set of assessments for each level of proficiency. These assessments would have to be altered a bit each year while still measuring the same skills—a database of potential questions at each level would enable this while minimizing the expense involved. Currently, the Common Core State Standards Initiative has outlined a set of standards for language arts and mathematics, and many states have already agreed to adopt them. Adding science and history to this curriculum would enable a comprehensive national curriculum that could easily be structured into a sequential model such as the one proposed in this project.
This model, however, need not be adopted nationally to function. It could be adopted at the state or even district level, although state testing formats might be difficult to apply in a district that was enacting the model independently. Uniformity across a large scale would facilitate implementation at every school, since materials and curriculum standards could then be adapted in a way less tailored to the current kindergarten through twelfth grade model.
Many examples exist of the complications arising from current reform efforts. Examples as varied as widespread cheating on state tests, states which have set ridiculously low standards for passing such tests, and the narrowness of curriculum imposed as schools strive to reach federally-mandated goals are all becoming apparent to the public at large. Even those who once supported current reform models, such as Diane Ravitch, have admitted that they are not as effective as anticipated and may have had negative effects on the way schools do business. As the year 2014 looms closer, such concerns will come to a head. No Child Left Behind requires that all schools produce one-hundred-percent passing rates in both language arts and mathematics among all subgroups. Any school which cannot accomplish this feat will be labeled a failing school. (Mathis, 2003.) When all American schools are labeled failures, the demand for a new way to address education reform will be at its peak. With the exception of isolated local measures, reform movements have addressed every aspect of pedagogy except one—individual student accountability. (Brookings Institution, 2003.) The reforms proposed in this project will fill that void.
As education agencies pool their resources, implementation may take different shapes. States may indeed opt for a set of uniform assessments, or each may decide to produce its own while still using a competency-based model. States might go so far as to produce common texts and materials, sharing and thus minimizing costs of production. Certain areas of content will be localized, such as state history content, while much can be shared. Implementation will be shaped by each of these factors, as well as the political and economic realities of the day. Though states are in a budget-cutting mode at present, which makes wholesale change unlikely, as the economy improves the opportunity to implement these reforms will arise. The largest factor affecting how the reform would be implemented is whether it stemmed from federal efforts or individual states. The federal government could outline a set of common standards, assessments, and even materials. However, it would not be able to require that states use any of these. By offering all of the required materials for free or at a great discount, it could entice states to use the federal plan. However, the idea of a competency-based school structure is one that could be implemented at any level, be it district, state, or federal.
Standards to Be Addressed
As noted earlier, Goals 2000 began a national effort to have a clear set of guidelines to address what should be taught at each grade level. While it did not go much beyond setting a series of goals, states have followed up by creating a set of state standards for most academic subjects, including English language arts, science, mathematics, and social studies. Recent collaboration between state policy makers has resulted in the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). This initiative has been the result of a national push for greater uniformity in educational content and standards to facilitate interstate comparisons as well as foster greater cooperation among state agencies. As of July 2011, forty-five states and two U.S. Territories have voluntarily adopted the Common Core Standards. Several states are already working on common assessments both to ensure comparable measurements of student performance and to create economies of scale in order to save money. (CCSSI.) The work of defining standards is largely complete. The task in implementing a competency-based structure using these standards would merely entail dividing each grade level's standards into trimester units, and adopting a set of assessments, both standardized and rubric-based, for each course. Considering that states are already working on common assessments, the progression to this next step would be a natural outgrowth of work that is already being done.
The body of research on the idea of competency-based education and its relation to the current model supports the idea pedagogically and for the most part psychologically, although here there is some dispute. It would be useful to analyze each piece of the argument separately in order to make a well-founded decision.
The Effects of Current Reforms
Both Goals 2000 and No Child Left Behind were programs whose intentions were very positive. Goals 2000 sought to establish a firm set of curricular guidelines for schools in order for educators to have a clear target to direct their efforts. While this did occur in many states, in others vague outlines were set that left educators confused as to what was required. No Child Left Behind mandated that all states establish standardized tests to evaluate the degree to which standards were being met, and set a sequence of proficiency goals culminating with 100% proficiency by the year 2014. The assumptions made by this legislation were that all students were capable of reaching proficiency and that educators had ultimate control over whether such occurred.
The literature published on these reforms coincides with the thesis of this project. The conclusions are that Goals 2000 did not go far enough in establishing a clear curriculum and that No Child Left Behind has had disastrous results for many institutions whose students struggle to meet ever-increasing proficiency goals. (Mathis, 2003.) NCLB, in particular, has had the effect of narrowing what is taught or emphasized by its focus on only two areas of real accountability: language arts and mathematics. Those schools that struggle the most in meeting proficiency goals spend almost all of their resources in these two areas while minimizing time and energy spent on subjects such as science or social studies.
The most informative literature on this subject comes from decision-makers themselves. Diane Ravitch writes:
The goal set by Congress of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 is an aspiration; it is akin to a declaration of belief. Yes, we do believe that all children can learn and should learn. But as a goal, it is utterly out of reach. No one truly expects that all students will be proficient by the year 2014, although NCLB's most fervent supporters often claimed that it was feasible. Such a goal has never been reached by any state or nation. (Ravitch, 2010.)
She also criticizes the ways in which No Child Left Behind leads to school privatization, and bases this on the lack of research or evidence to support that method of school improvement. She states:
To date, there is no substantial body of evidence that demonstrates that low- performing schools can be turned around by any of the remedies prescribed in the law... It seems that the only guaranteed strategy is to change the student population, replacing low-performing students with higher-performing students. Sometimes this happens with bells and whistles, as the old 'failing' school is closed and then reopened with a new name, a new theme, and new students. But such a strategy is meaningless because it evades the original school's responsibility to its students. Rather than 'leaving no child behind,' this strategy plays a shell game with low-performing students, moving them out and dispersing them, pretending they don't exist. (Ravitch, 2010.)
Diane Ravitch is not the only authority critical of current reform programs. Another researcher, Kelley Rohlfsen, states:
With the various sub-groups outlined in the legislation, there are students who will constantly be at a disadvantage when compared with their peers. Although the law was written with the intent to improve student learning, lawmakers failed to take into account the students themselves. (Rohlfsen, 2009.)
The consensus of the literature is that while some gains have indeed been made in basic literacy and computation, these gains have leveled off. In addition, No Child Left Behind has led to a high degree of coping behavior, including states that lower minimum scores for proficiency and even large-scale cheating. These issues are in addition to the issue of curriculum narrowing. As Rohlfsen reports:
The problem that many schools are facing is that because of the extent of pressure they are facing to make each and every single child 'proficient,' they are finding themselves cutting back time in other content-rich areas in order to provide more time for the areas that are reported to the government. (Rohlfsen, 2009.)
These problems and limitations faced by existing reform measures are almost uniformly accepted, even by many who initially were fervent supporters of the legislation. There are some, however, who point out that in most places scores have risen and schools are more focused than ever to ensure that all students achieve basic literacy and computational skills. They contend that by admitting that not all students are capable of proficiency, one is diminishing the capacity of those sub-groups that are assumed to be incapable of 100 percent proficiency. Such an opinion, however, does not stand up to scrutiny. Some groups will fail by definition. How are English Language Learners, labeled as such academically because of their lack of English language skills and experience, going to achieve 100 percent proficiency? (Cortiella, 2010.) If they did, would they truly belong in the program? The same applies to special education students, even those who qualify in the subjects specific to each test. They comprise not only a sub-group, but also a percentage of the total enrollment. The assumption that such students will meet proficiency goals is contradictory to the recognition that these same students have disabilities that impede processing information in certain ways (mathematical or linguistic). This is not to say that they cannot learn or should not be taught, but that their potential academic achievement and the standards of proficiency for mathematics and literacy do not coincide. To dismiss this fact is to deny the obvious.
While there are still a few politicians who cling to the idea that it is indeed possible for all students to achieve proficiency by 2014, nearly all research and literature points in the opposite direction. Goals 2000 was a good start, as far as it went, but did not provide much beyond vague suggestions. (Ravitch, 2010.) No Child Left Behind created a system in which schools and educators would be punished for being unable to achieve the impossible, which led to many negative consequences as schools sought to cope with the legislation year after year. In the end, neither set of reforms addressed the responsibility of the primary stakeholders in education—the students themselves. (Brookings Institution, 2003.)
One key element overlooked by both Goals 2000 and No Child Left Behind was the motivation of students. Both reforms assumed that it was entirely possible to convince every child of the importance of high achievement and to motivate him or her to accomplish this. Such motivations would have to be intrinsic, as the current school model provides no substantial extrinsic reason for students to succeed. In nearly all elementary and middle schools, students will promote from grade to grade whether or not they have mastered the material. Their scores on state tests are meaningless to their progress through the school system. Thus, those students who are intrinsically motivated succeed, and those who are not often fail. While individual educators can attempt to inspire and motivate, they have no ultimate control over students' attitudes; to assume that the effects of home life and culture can be overcome by six-to-seven hours of effort by one person, no matter how hard that person tries, is quite a leap of faith.
Literature regarding the psychology of education goes back many years. In 1938, Dr. Karl Menninger lamented that, “in practice, the emotional relations of the pupils to the teacher are considered unimportant by-products, sometimes interesting, sometimes annoying, but never worth any consideration.” (Stearns, 1938.) Such an attitude toward student motivation is still reflected in current reform efforts. However, recent studies indicate that student motivation depends on many factors, the relationship with the teacher being only one among many.
Research indicates that incentive is the key to motivating people to take a desired course of action. This is most often demonstrated in the world of higher education, in which students who may not have taken schoolwork seriously as children return once they have realized the connection between educational attainment and economic success in the American job market. One notable trend in the research is that very much of it delves into the impact of behaviorist rewards and consequences for education professionals, but very little research of late has been done on how behaviorism might be used to improve the achievement and work ethic of students. Since the days of Pavlov, it has been taken for granted that people behave in ways that promote their self-interest, either to gain a desired outcome or to avoid a negative one. Many of the measures of No Child Left Behind stem directly from such thinking. If a school does not meet its Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) toward NCLB goals, a set of negative consequences is set into motion to encourage improvement. While the success of these measures on actual student outcomes is debatable, it is clear from the results of this legislation that it has motivated schools to work harder in measured areas and to make drastic changes. Yet, little or no thought on the part of legislators has been taken on extending similar incentives to the students themselves.
Much of the reasoning for this attitude stems from research regarding the effects of student accountability measures on self-esteem. For example, it is widely accepted even by many education professionals that retaining students in a grade harms self-esteem more than it enhances achievement. Moreover, such studies cite evidence that individual gains in academic subjects do occur over the short term, but diminish over the long term, usually within two to three school years. The National Association of School Psychologists states its official position in the following manner:
Initial achievement gains may occur during the year the student is retained. However, the consistent trend across many research studies is that achievement gains decline within 2 – 3 years of retention, such that retained children either do no better or perform more poorly than similar groups of promoted children. This is true whether children are compared to same-grade peers or comparable students who were promoted. (NASP, 2003.)
Research indicates that much of this effect is caused by the stigma of being retained. The rarity of such occurrences is such that retention carries with it a great degree of social stigma, as well as the result of a student being removed from his peer cohort and placed with a new group. Given the current structure of elementary education, a student is not simply retained in one subject, but is punished in all areas often for a deficit in only one, especially reading. (NASP, 2003.) The recommended strategies for dealing with academic deficits without resorting to whole-grade retention coincide quite well with the competency-based structure outlined in this project. In its policy document Ready to Learn, Empowered to Teach: Excellence in Education for the 21st Century, the NASP outlines a series of core action principles that its research has concluded will be effective in improving student outcomes. These principles include combining high expectations with appropriate instruction at an individualized level, expanding accountability systems so that they provide a more comprehensive view of a child's progress rather than using a single, annual high-stakes test, and providing federal leadership that allows for coordinated national policies. (NASP, 2008.) All of these suggestions comprise components of the competency-based model outlined in this project. That is, accountability can be achieved without harming the psyche of the child, and in fact strengthening self-esteem by providing opportunities for earned success.
Economic theory supports behaviorism by stressing the importance of incentives in decision-making. In the book Common Sense Economics, the authors write that:
All of economics rests on one simple principle: Changes in incentives influence human behavior in predictable ways. Both monetary and non-monetary factors influence incentives. If something becomes too costly, people will be less likely
to choose it. This simple idea, sometimes called the basic postulate of economics, is a powerful tool because it applies to almost everything that we do. (Gwartney et al, 2010.)
From this perspective, it is easy to see the intimate connection between economic theory and psychology. Psychology attends to the process of determining the more profound reasons why human beings behave as they do. Economic theory deals in the realm of predicting how people will behave given the incentives and circumstances with which they are faced. Economic theory, then, deals more specifically in outcomes.
Economist Thomas Sowell concurs that providing the right incentives is the most powerful way to shape human behavior. He asserts that the key to shaping effective public policy is to think beyond “stage one,” or the initial effects of a decision, and to analyze the results those effects will have on other decision-makers, on and on several stages beyond the initial effect. (Sowell, 2009.) This leads one to ask additional questions about the NASP's position on retention. The effects in stage one, that is, on the student being retained, may be slightly negative. What are the effects in stage two, or the peers of that student who realize that there is a genuine possibility that they will be retained if they fail to perform? More research must be conducted in this area for any conclusion on the effects of retention policies on school systems overall can be determined.
Overall, the psychological research and literature regarding the policies promoted by this project are supportive. The program will provide a set of concrete incentives for students to succeed. Because classes will be organized into three-month increments rather than full-year blocks, those who need to repeat a class will not fall far behind their age-group peers. Moreover, by eliminating age as the primary factor governing class placement, the stigma associated with having to repeat a course will be reduced. Finally, students will not be forced to repeat all subjects, but only those in which they have not met competency requirements. Thus, the program's layout meets the NASP recommendations of appropriate instruction at an individualized level and using a more comprehensive method of evaluating student readiness than simply one annual high-stakes test. While some might question the effect on self-esteem of ever having to repeat anything, this effect is minimized by the fact that a child can progress through different subjects at different rates, depending on his or her strengths and weaknesses.
There are two countervailing viewpoints on how heterogeneous grouping affects both students and teachers in class. There are some who believe that teachers should be able to sufficiently address the needs of a wide range of student needs and abilities regardless of class grouping if he or she works hard enough and has the proper professional development. This group believes that students benefit from being in a group of mixed-ability peers, and that if sufficiently trained and motivated teachers were available, the same content could be taught to students of different levels of academic preparation by simply tailoring lessons to the learning style of each child. Research supports the idea that some students, primarily the low-achievers, do obtain some benefit from being in the same classes as those who demonstrate greater academic ability, although statistically the effect is not substantial. (Loveless, 1999.) However, the reverse effect is more noticeable, especially among the highly gifted, those whose IQ scores are two or more standard deviations above the norm. (Davidson, 2004.) Many such students, among the brightest and most promising in the country, are forced to endure tedious years of either added work (or as most textbooks label it, “enrichment”), or time spent tutoring those students who need the most help. While this fits well with the egalitarian bent of the modern education ethos, it effectively nullifies the potential of the best and brightest among the rising generation. (Davidson, 2004.) As researcher James Kulik concludes after an extensive meta-analysis, “The findings on ability grouping conclude that it is beneficial for all levels of students. The most dramatic impact is for academically talented students who are offered accelerated classes.” (Kulik, 1993.)
According to Tom Loveless, while it might be politically attractive to suppose that teachers can serve a class with widely varied abilities just as well as a more homogeneous one, the reality is quite different. Since the core curriculum is only suited for those students whose ability most neatly corresponds with their age-based grade level, and in a heterogeneous classroom that group may well be the minority, much time must be spent either reviewing material that many in the class have already mastered, or catering to the individual needs of those who are not advanced enough in basic skills to comprehend the material. Very often, those who are at the highest-achieving end of the spectrum are given extra projects to reinforce the same level of curriculum, ignoring their ability to do more advanced coursework in favor of maintaining classes within the desired age range. (Loveless, 1999.) Loveless quotes one teacher he interviewed as follows:
I think they [teachers in an experimental heterogeneous class] have found some real problems to some degree. They're trying to teach to the middle. The lower students are struggling to keep up; and then, of course, the higher students are bored and unchallenged. --Chapter I Teacher (Loveless, 1999.)
This is a recurring theme in the literature. Heterogeneous grouping leads to coping strategies by educators, who very often are mandated the use of a specific curriculum in a specific way. Since not all children are able to comprehend the material, much time is spent attempting to address the needs of individual students who may be anywhere from one to four grade levels behind in prerequisite skills. This slows the pace of instruction for the rest of the class. Such a methodology may indeed be of some benefit to the lowest-achieving students, as documented previously. However, many of these children are recipients of additional remediation, such as pullout groups, extended day classes, and within-class ability grouping. (Loveless, 1999.) While the National Association of School Psychologists endorses such measures, they indicate the need for a greater level of differentiation than can be provided in a mixed-ability classroom.
While the literature varies quite a bit on its assessment of the efficacy of ability grouping, it stresses the need for remediation for those who are behind and acceleration for those who are advanced. In a model such as the one outlined in this project, both goals would be met. Teachers would be able to direct more of their energy toward advancing the learning and goals of all students rather than spending most of their time with those who are not ready for grade-level material. Homogeneity would improve both teacher morale and the ability to meet student needs. While some of the literature takes exception to the fact that not all students will be taught the same material at the same time (Wheelock, 1992), this ignores the fact that not all children achieve the same intellectual milestones at the same rate, nor do all have the same ultimate capacity for academic learning.
Effects of Ability Grouping
Those who critique competency-based education, or ability grouping as it is sometimes called, often do so on the grounds that it affects both student achievement and self-esteem in negative ways. In The Tracking Wars: State Reform Meets School Policy, Tom Loveless provides counterarguments to this point of view. First, as he notes, ability grouping often occurs within classes, especially in the most heterogeneous ones, as the result of the need to differentiate to meet diverse student needs. (Loveless, 1999.) According to a study by Carolyn Evertson, Julie Sanford, and Edmund Emmer:
Results suggest that heterogeneity of students' entering achievement levels in a given class limits teachers' successful adaptation of instruction to individual student academic and affective needs. Higher heterogeneity was also associated with a lesser degree of student task engagement and cooperation. (Evertson et al, 1981.)
Research, as well as common sense, indicates that the less students engage in classroom learning activities and cooperate with instructors, the less they will learn. Tom Loveless notes that large urban centers with significant behavior issues are the most likely to have detracked their classes. (Loveless, 1999.) It is also a statistical fact that most urban areas tend to score significantly lower on state accountability measures, such as standardized testing. In another study, Loveless notes that detracked schools produced fewer advanced math students than similar schools that offered ability grouped classes in that subject. (Loveless, 2009.) For this reason—that higher-ability students have fewer opportunities to raise their achievement--it appears that failure to ability group in some subjects reduces academic achievement in a measurable way.
As for the social consequences, while the NASP is clearly against grade level retention, it suggests that cross-classroom exchanges are a beneficial strategy to deal with those students who need help in areas more specifically taught in other grades. In fact, this is a common strategy already in use among many elementary schools. According to research by James Kulik:
One conclusion is that grouping programs usually have only small effects on student self-esteem. The programs certainly do not lead talented students to become self-satisfied and smug, not do they cause a precipitous drop in the self- esteem of lower aptitude students. If anything, XYZ [tracked] grouping may cause quick learners to lose a little of their self-assurance, and they may cause slower learners to gain some badly-needed self-confidence. (Kulik, 1993.)
In general, literature on the subject concurs with Kulik's analysis. Ability grouping, especially cross-grade grouping, has little negative effect on student self-esteem and can have an academic benefit of between 0.2 and 0.3 standard deviations on standardized test scores. (Kulik, 1993.) Such a positive outcome provides evidence that the education model proposed in this project will not only be psychologically safe for both low- and high-achieving students, but will also have a positive effect academically.
There is some evidence cited in Kulik's report that might be of concern for some people. XYZ grouping, or teaching the same curriculum at a different pace and depth to high, low, and medium ability students, is ineffective, having neither a positive or negative statistical effect on assessments. (Kulik, 1993.) However, such a finding is irrelevant to this project; it is not proposed that students receive different versions of the grade-level curriculum, but that they progress through curriculum step-by-step as they gain proficiency. This is much closer in implementation to cross-grade grouping, which research demonstrates is quite effective.
Comparing International Systems
Much emphasis is made on the United States' ranking on international academic tests. It is true that test scores have diminished compared to other industrialized nations. It would then be useful to analyze research on what other nations' schools are doing differently than in the United States, and see whether that supports the idea of a competency-based model of education. In terms of the literature, America's foreign competitors have much more student accountability built into their education systems. Japan's system is well known for this quality. Japan's system is unique in many ways, but one area in particular stands out as being relevant in relation to this project's proposal.
According to researcher Thomas P. Rohlen in his book Japan's High Schools, the college assessments are the driving force behind the entire school system. Exam scores appear in the national newspapers and are pored over with all of the fervor that Americans have for the Super Bowl each year. However, this emphasis on student achievement is not merely institutional, but also personal. Each year's exams have immediate and dramatic effects on the lives of students. In essence, the entire kindergarten through eighth grade experience serves to prepare students to succeed in high school entrance examinations. Students know that certain high schools' students do better on the entrance examinations to prestigious colleges, most specifically Tokyo University, and so they work hard to qualify for the most reputable high schools. (Rohlen, 1983.) Rohlen notes a few of the prevailing differences between Japanese and American schools:
The goals of instruction are also quite different. Exam-oriented Japanese students become virtual information junkies, drinking in as many facts as possible. They learn to listen well and to think quickly... Thought is weighted in favor of memory and objective problem solving... (Rohlen, 1983.)
The implications relating to a competency-based model of education are quite clear. The accountability required of Japanese students leads to a cultural and personal emphasis on personal responsibility and achievement. Students behave better and work harder. According to Rohlen, “...the skills and achievements of the average Japanese student are far greater for all levels up through twelfth grade.” (Rohlen, 1983.) He quantifies this in the following way:
Elementary education takes them farther in the basics, as well as in art and music, compared with our [American] schools. In high school all students have more required courses in math, sciences, foreign languages, and social studies. The result, I estimate, is that the average Japanese high school graduate has the equivalent basic knowledge of the average American college graduate. (Rohnlen, 1983.)
The achievement differences do not stem from the accountability factor alone, this is true. Japanese students have a longer school year, longer school days, and more homework. However, accountability is the motivator enabling the rest of the innovations. Students know their future, both immediate and long-term, depends on how they perform each day at school. This point is reinforced by the fact that every class and every assessment has an immediate consequence. By the time the college entrance examinations are taken, students have been exposed to a meritocratic environment for their entire school experience. The entire system is designed as preparatory for that final series of exams. (Rohlen, 1983.)
The primary education system in the United Kingdom is also set up in a regimented way that requires success in each of several “key stages.” According to researchers Anna Riggal and Caroline Sharp:
The Education Reform Act of 1988... set out a national curriculum for every maintained school. This was made up of specified subjects and included the following:
ñ a set of attainment targets which specify the knowledge, skills, and understanding which pupils of different abilities and maturities are expected to have reached by the end of each key stage
ñ the types of matters, skills, and processes which are to be taught to pupils of different abilities and maturities during each key stage
ñ assessment for pupils at or near the end of each key stage for the purpose of ascertaining what they have achieved in relation to the attainment targets for that stage. (Riggal and Sharp, 2008.)
In many ways this seems similar to the standards movement sparked by President Clinton's Goals 2000 legislation. However, it bears more similarity to this project's proposal in many ways. To begin with, it contains specific accommodations for “pupils of different abilities and maturities,” something the current American system has staunchly refused to consider. (Riggal and Sharp, 2008.) As stated previously, all students of all abilities, even those with severe retardation, are expected by law to be proficient at the same standards and taking the same tests by the year 2014. In addition, the language of the key stages is notably student-oriented. They speak of “attainment targets” and “assessment for pupils.” (Riggal and Sharp, 2008.) This is notably different from the common view of state testing purposes in the United States, the primary goal of which is to assess schools rather than students; that is, negative results carry negative consequences for schools but have no effect whatsoever on the students themselves. It is thus evident that their goal is not to ensure that individual pupils are achieving their goals, but that educators and institutions are doing so. In both Japan and the United Kingdom, and indeed in much of both Asia and Europe, school systems are designed to ensure that students take responsibility for their achievement. The fact that most of the nations in both Europe and Asia outscore America on international tests of student achievement indicate that this is a critical factor in the success of an education system, and that these nations do a better job making use of such motivation.
There are, of course, arguments that could be made against such measures. It could be argued that Japan's system is too strict and hierarchical, that it robs students of creativity and independent thought. This argument, however, seems a bit ethnocentric; it assumes that seriousness of purpose thwarts mental independence. In addition, this project's proposal does not specify the content of classes or curriculum. Assessments could be formative or summative. They would, however, have consequences. It is this aspect of the Asian and European systems that has the most to offer in terms of comparison. While the research on these methods does not uniformly or wholeheartedly support them, it does indicate that they are contributors associated with high academic success rates.
Devising Standards and Assessments
It is beyond the scope of this project to delineate specifically the standards and assessments that would be used to implement a competency-based model of public education. However, it is important to note that much of this work has been done and can be adapted to this project's purpose. For the efficacy of a competency-based model to be maximized, it would ideally be employed uniformly on a national level. This would require every state to have the same standards and use the same assessments to measure progress and assure competency before students are permitted to advance to the next level of complexity in each subject. As it happens, there are standards and examinations that could be readily adapted to just such a purpose. The Common Core State Standards Initiative represents a consortium of state agencies and education professionals who have collaborated on a set of language arts and mathematics standards that are currently being adopted by the vast majority of states. These standards also include reading and writing standards for science, history, and other content areas. (CCSSI.) What is interesting is that this initiative has come about without a federal mandate. Granted, the federal government is prohibited by law against making direct education policy decisions for the states. (Ravitch, 2010.) Still, as with Goals 2000 and No Child Left Behind, it still has a great deal of leverage which it exercises by linking compliance with federal mandates to federal education funds, on which states have come to rely. However, the fact that states are coming together voluntarily in this way bodes well for future education reforms.
The Common Core standards are tailored to the current kindergarten through twelfth grade system. However, these standards could conceivably be subdivided into the shorter, sixty-day increments necessary to implement the plan proposed in this project. Indeed, many school districts are now using curriculum maps that set a time-line for content to be delivered. These maps are often divided into intervals of either forty-five or sixty school days. In addition, assessments are often administered on a quarterly or trimester basis to determine progress toward passing state end-of-year tests. In fact, one company has already come into existence for the sole purpose of facilitating curriculum mapping on the part of school districts and individual educators. Collaborative Learning Inc. has been providing educators with tools for mapping and outlining curriculum since 1999 (CLI website.) These tools allow districts to create pacing guides which outline what content is to be taught and assessed on a month-by-month schedule. Schools are already breaking curriculum down into units similar to what this project proposes.
The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) is a tool used by the federal government to compare states' educational attainment in a uniform way. This is necessary because each state has its own standardized testing scheme and these are very often not comparable to each other. (NAEP website.) Taking the NAEP is voluntary, with some districts choosing to do so and some not. However, what is pertinent is the fact that a uniform test does exist for all grade levels. The Common Core website also reports that states are coming together to develop common assessments aligned with the new set of standards. Whether the initiative is federal or an outgrowth of state collaboration, it is evident that developing a set of common assessments is not out of the question. The only adaptation necessary would, again, be subdividing these assessments to fit shorter blocks of content.
The sequencing of content in a hierarchical format is not a new or a novel idea. In the field of mathematics, it has been and continues to be commonplace. Many mathematics teachers affirm that the subject requires such a structure, since the more complicated subjects employ the skills and information gained in earlier classes. (Loveless, 1999.) The same is true of language arts. A student must recognize letters before he or she can read or write. A rudimentary understanding of English grammar is required to form sentences. One must be able to write a paragraph before an essay. Even science and social studies require the development of basic skill sets and knowledge bases upon which to build. In a research report from as long ago as 1962, the case was being made for non-graded, homogeneous grouping. (Anderson, 1962.) A report from the same era by Leslie Briggs states:
Findings from experiments... not only confirm the long-held idea that learning of mathematics and science is highly structured, but it goes on to show that this structure is hierarchical in nature and that, when learning is sequenced accordingly, learning is facilitated through transfer from subordinate skills to superordinate skills, as the hierarchy predicts. (Briggs, 1967.)
According to this report, in a series of controlled experiments it was determined that sequencing by competency was a more important factor in measurable success that even the specific tools or methods used to deliver the content. It states:
An important implication of this series of studies as a whole is that the arrangement of the units of instruction in accordance with the order in which competencies need to be acquired appears to be a more powerful influence determining criterion scores than do such other variables as number and type of examples which represent characteristics of instruction within a unit of instruction. This is not to say that such variables as number and type of examples are not important in learning, but it is to say that in a hierarchically structured course, if the units are arranged in the wrong order it may not matter how skillfully the instruction is programmed in the frames comprising the unit. (Briggs, 1967.)
What is unique about this report is that it focuses on the process of learning itself. Many studies attempt to make conclusions about various schemes and best practices to enhance student learning and retention. However, this research concludes that if material is not learned in the proper sequence, the delivery will not make a significant difference. This also makes intuitive sense. If a child has not mastered the basic times tables, that child will be unable to master the ability to multiply large numbers by each other. No matter how good or bad the teacher, the student's improper sequencing of skills will be a major impediment. A competency-based model of education would sequence material in a manner that ensures that students would be prepared to learn each new concept as successfully as possible.
Research reinforces a notion that most educators know through experience. Knowledge must be built upon knowledge. If key concepts are missing, a student will be unable to progress. In the current age-based system, students often fall farther and farther behind as they are promoted into content for which they are woefully unprepared. A competency-based school structure would do much to remedy that issue.
The literature on the subject of education structures and their impact on student learning is very supportive of a competency-based model of education. Current reform efforts are having many negative effects, which indicate the need for a course correction. Psychology supports the idea of tailoring content to the individual student, and a system such as the one in this project would enable this. The system would make teachers more effective since they would be teaching a homogeneous group with similar needs and abilities, and not a group needing to learn different skills at several grade levels of ability. The literature shows that tracking by ability has very positive results for high-ability students, and relatively few negative ones for those in other categories. Moreover, it shows that overall achievement improves when students are grouped according to their educational needs, be they acceleration or remediation.
Research also supports the idea that student accountability is an important factor in academic success, and that nations which have such accountability built into their school structures and culture achieve greater success. Sequencing curriculum based on competency requirements is also supported by research, which indicates that such sequencing may well be more important in successful learning than even the way material is delivered. Research shows that the curriculum standards and assessments needed to implement a competency-based model are already in place, simply needing to be adapted slightly to fit shorter units. Overall, the literature is very supportive of the model of education proposed in this project.
In the field of education, there are a near limitless number of stakeholders. Most fundamental are the students, for whom the entire process is tailored. Parents are also major stakeholders, as the interests of their children are at the same time their own. These might be considered the primary stakeholders in education, those who are being served. The secondary stakeholders are the educators. Teachers are those who have to implement any reform model; veteran teachers have implemented several that affect their jobs in contrasting ways. Teachers are likely to be the most skeptical of stakeholders, having experienced many reforms that did not deliver the results they promised.
Local and state officials also count as stakeholders fairly directly, considering that their decisions have a great impact on the conditions teachers and students experience in class. They are also held accountable, though to a lesser degree than schools and teachers, for academic outcomes. Politically, federal officials are also stakeholders; the degree to which Americans are able to compete in a technologically advanced global economy affects their approval and chances of re-election.
In a more general sense, business owners and employers are stakeholders. The degree to which Americans are educated either enables or impedes economic growth and opportunity. The better educated the general public, the less likely it is that employers will have to either bring in foreign workers with the needed expertise or outsource abroad. Of course, advancing the interests of employers also advances the interests of nearly everyone else, since everyone's standard of living is derived from the world of work, either directly through a paycheck or indirectly through social benefits paid for by taxing the employed. Even local property owners are affected by the perception of the quality of the local schools. What is important is that, in a very real way, the success of the education system in the United States has a significant impact on every other aspect of civic existence. In short, all Americans are stakeholders.
Forms of Assessment
The most ideal assessment of the program would come from a pilot study. The essential form of a competency-based model would be applied to a single school or district, and evaluated on its effectiveness. This pilot study would have to be conducted over a period of at least five years to determine the trend in results. It is likely that at the beginning of implementation there would be many failed segments. This is fitting considering that a lack of competency is the reason for the reform in the first place. What a pilot study would enable would be a longitudinal view of whether or not the key purpose of the program was being achieved. That is, does accountability improve student results? In addition, what difference to success is achieved by students entering each class with the prerequisite skills in place? This data could be gathered for each student in the program, and in each grade. For example, student John Smith might have been almost proficient in the third grade as measured by state testing results. When the program begins, he would likely have to repeat a segment or two to catch up on his prerequisite skills. The first year's data would likely indicate that he was losing ground since he was not exposed to as much new material and consequently would perform worse on the state exams. However, in terms of raw ability in both subjects the same student may have improved significantly. This would be evident in classroom grades.
At the same time, a longitudinal study in a pilot school would be useful because it would reinforce to students that the consequences of passing or not passing each segment were indeed going to be enforced. Students might doubt that the school would really carry through with the idea that failing a segment would cause one to repeat it. This would be especially true for older students who may have been promoted for several years without passing most classes or coming anywhere near proficiency on state tests. Most school systems promote such students regardless of educational attainment in order to keep them with their age cohorts. (Loveless, 1999.) This new paradigm might not be taken seriously until it becomes evident, after a period of years, that the expectations are firm.
Finally, a successful pilot program would encourage other schools and districts to adopt the measure. The wider the sample of schools implementing the program, the better it would likely work. That is, if only one school were to implement the program out of an entire district, students might opt to transfer to another school to avoid accountability. This would make implementation more difficult and interfere with data gathering. Those students who would benefit most from repeating segments would also have the most motive to avoid accountability by changing schools. Depending on the attitude of parents, many such students might leave the program during the course of the study. This would tinge the results and decrease the validity of the study. However, such factors would be unavoidable if the program were limited to a single school; most states have school choice laws that allow parents to choose which school in the district they desire their students to attend. (Ravitch, 2010.) A district-level pilot would be preferable since it would prevent as great a variation in participants, although the student body in any school system varies a bit year-by-year as students move in and out of district boundaries.
A pilot program's data collection would be very useful as a way to demonstrate the validity of a competency-based model of student promotion, but it would face certain inherent limitations due simply to scale. For example, state tests are not designed to measure progress in sixty-day increments, but do so over traditional grade-level terms. This would make it difficult to use such tests as a measure of the program's success. In the latter years of the pilot program, years three through five, such measures might again become useful since the student body would presumably be more prepared for each class, which would result in fewer repeated segments. One way to make up for the test-mismatch factor would be to assign students a grade-level equivalent based upon their competency level and give them the matching state test rather than the one matching their age cohort. This would have to be addressed in the program review after five years, and this data would have to be weighed against how far students were behind in their age-based grade curriculum. For example, if a student does extremely well on the eighth grade state test, but that student also happens to be twenty years old, the program was not successful for that student. However, the average longitudinal gains in state test scores would provide a balanced measurement. Such data would provide an overview of both raw score gains and progress over time in the state curriculum.
The primary function of a pilot study would be to determine if such a program could be successful at the local level. A local program would likely be less successful than a more widely implemented one because it would not have access to the specially tailored materials and assessments that a broadly implemented program would have. The effects of a pilot program might encourage other districts to adopt a competency-based curriculum model, but it would not be until near-universal adoption occurred that the effects would be fully visible.
After a successful pilot program, it would be hoped that the model would be adopted more broadly, ideally at the national level. This would allow for a much more comprehensive measurement of the effects of the program. In the area of education there exist a great number of ways in which these effects might be measured. One way, of course, would be standardized assessment scores. However, these would only function as accurate measurements if certain criteria were met. One of the problems the American education system is currently experiencing is consistency in its measurements. (USDOE.) This is why it was suggested that while a competency-based model would function at a very local level as well as a national one, it would work better the more widely it was used. The validity of assessment tools increases as the sample of those assessed becomes larger. In the United States, each state currently has its own curriculum and assessment scheme, which makes interstate comparisons difficult. Tools like the National Assessment of Educational Progress would be useful in such an assessment if every school used it. However, a federal test is not necessary should state agencies develop a standardized measure on their own, which appears to be in progress as more and more states adopt the Common Core State Standards. In order to assess the validity and success of a competency-based education structure, an assessment would have to be devised that could assess the attainment levels of students over a period before implementation and after it. The assessment could well be the one several states are devising using the Common Core Standards. (CCSSI.) Two things would be important to obtain an accurate measure. First, the assessment would have to remain stable over a period of years, preferably two before implementation and four thereafter. This would provide a baseline attainment level before implementation by averaging results for the two years prior. Four years of measurements after implementation would be long enough to see the initial trends after implementation, as well as granting sufficient time for the psychological effects (i. e. greater student accountability) to take hold and begin to have the anticipated effect on individual and overall attainment. During this period, longitudinal results could also be gathered to look for growth patterns in a given cohort. It is very often deceptive to compare, for example, one year's third-grade class to the next year's class, especially at the most local level. Longitudinal results would present the most accurate picture of the program's effect on student achievement.
The second criterion for an accurate assessment is that it must be age-based. In order to measure the true progress being made (or not being made) of such a program, students must be assessed on their attainment in terms of real time. This is especially the case because the structure proposed would inevitably affect which skills are taught at which rate. Subdividing a subject's curriculum for a year into three sixty-day segments means that the curriculum of the current fourth grade would be labeled segments ten through twelve. Students at the end of segment twelve would have received the equivalent curriculum of students at the end of fourth grade. However, these students might have taken longer to qualify for this segment, which would skew the results. Therefore, a system would have to be devised which would be able to compare scores based on age, while not ignoring the fact that students in certain curriculum segments may not have been exposed to all of the ideas that the previous students had. Therefore, the standardized assessments for each subject would have to be divided into the same curriculum segments as the competency-based model. This would allow a valid comparison. It would be possible to assess both how broad a curriculum students had mastered, and how well students had mastered each segment of curriculum both before and after implementation. For example, students might have been able to progress further into the curriculum before implementation in bits and pieces, but also master the content more reliably and at a higher level of accuracy under the new system. An assessment designed as described would be able to measure both aspects.
Moreover, this assessment would comprise the end-of-unit test for each segment in the competency-based program. Therefore, instead of taking one set of tests during a two-week window each year, students would take each segment of the test during at the end of the corresponding unit. This would accomplish both the age-based and proficiency-based goals of the assessment. By comparing the scores of students on each curriculum segment it would be possible to measure changes in mastery. By comparing the number of proficient scores at a certain age achieved under both models, it would be possible to determine if students were truly losing breadth of content over time, or if the same percentage of students was failing to master the same standards at the same age. For example, if twenty percent of students were not proficient during the first two years (under the age-based model), and twenty percent had not either passed the test or reached that level under the new model, mastery would be roughly equivalent on that particular content. However, it would also be useful to know if there was a higher rate of mastery on the curriculum segments that had been completed by the students. That is, if the overall proficiency rates were the same due to some students having to repeat a segment, but mastery of the two remaining segments was significantly higher, the program would still have been successful. Such an assessment scheme would, however, suffer from the same limitations as do all standardized tests, primarily that of student variability. However, on a large scale such factors would even out statistically, or could be factored into the data.
There are other factors necessary to measure the success of the program. It may have an effect on dropout rates, either to increase or reduce them. They would increase if students became too discouraged by having to repeat classes. Conversely, they would decrease if students became accustomed to rigor and accountability in earlier grades and then were better able to cope with it in high school. Either way, this needs to be quantified. This data is already gathered for every American school at the current time, and would be gathered after the implementation of the program. (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2011.)
Other stakeholders' outcomes would also have to be measured. The number of disciplinary referrals per hundred students per year should be examined. If the program were encouraging accountability, this number should decrease over time. A teacher survey would be given each year, beginning two years before the program and continuing thereafter. It would contain questions similar to those on the following rubric:
Rated on a scale from one to five, one being “disagree strongly” and five being “agree strongly,” rate each of the following statements:
1. Student behavior is good.
2. Students come to my class with the background knowledge they need to learn this term's level of material.
3. Students take responsibility for their own success.
4. Parents are involved in making sure their children do homework.
5. Parents care about how their children are doing in class.
6. Students care about their grades and progress.
7. Students work hard to make academic progress.
8. The school system is succeeding.
9. The average student is academically proficient.
10. Students are achieving their individual potential.
This kind of survey would be useful in measuring how teachers perceive the old and new systems. It would be useful to see how perceptions change as the competency-based model becomes mainstream. One might imagine that many teachers would feel uncomfortable with the new system. This is true with all reforms. However, if the proposed model were successful, the total number of points on the rubric would increase over time. In addition, such a survey would differentiate between what was working and what wasn't. For example, students might work harder but still retain certain discipline issues. Comparing and contrasting different aspects of how teachers perceive their classes would be a good measure of the effects of this reform on teacher work conditions. This group of stakeholders is very important, since it is the group implementing the policy at the most fundamental level and the most qualified to judge its success at the most local of levels.
To address the concerns of state and federal agencies and politicians, not to mention economic stakeholders, it would be important to measure how American students are doing compared to its economic competitors. There is already an assessment for this, which could still be administered in the same way simply substituting proficiency zones (i. e. the levels of curriculum when divided into segments) for grade levels. Currently, there are two types of tests that gather data at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels. TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Study) are the authoritative measures of educational attainment internationally, and one of the primary reasons policy makers use to justify education reform legislation. (TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, 2011.) If a competency-based model were functioning well at the national level, the United States' rankings should improve. Universal implementation of this program would be necessary for this measure to mean anything, which is why this project suggests that it is preferable that the program be implemented at the national level. In fact, all measures of efficacy would be more statistically meaningful if the program were implemented across the country.
There are several factors that might limit the reliability of these assessment strategies. With regard to the standardized assessment, it is possible that the span of time might not be sufficient to accurately assess the effects of the reform. However, this is easily remedied by extending the window. Dropout rates might be affected by other factors. For example, in many border states dropout rates are inflated due to illegal residents returning to their home countries, possibly returning but in a different area and bringing no records. Since most schools register students without requiring documentation of legal residency, this factor could affect both the dropout rate and also measurements of the success of the competency-based model on those students, since they would not have been enrolled in such a program on a continuous basis. (Green, 2003.) The data would have to be adjusted to account for such events.
The teacher survey would, of course, have to be anonymous. Teacher surveys are nothing new, however, and such strategies have long been in practice. An online survey would tabulate the data more quickly and quantify the results. It must be noted that teacher perceptions are inherently subjective. However, the statistical trend of these surveys would be very telling and form a persuasive piece of evidence either for or against the success of the program. (MET.)
International assessments such as TIMSS and PIRLS would only be pertinent if the program was uniformly adopted at the national level. That is, if all of the schools in the assessments' samples were using the program, it would inform stakeholders whether the strategy were improving the nation's comparative academic standing. However, other factors might reduce the accuracy of using these measures to determine whether the program was improving education. For example, if competing nations in the survey were also performing better, no change in the standings would be visible. (TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, 2011.)
To reiterate a point that is very important to determining the success of the program, the more widely it is adopted, the easier it will be to assess. While it is possible to adapt the competency-based model even to the scale of a single school, many of the assessment strategies would not be valid at this level. To determine whether the program is truly successful, a fairly wide sample of schools should be using it, and a standardized assessment tailored to the format should be used. An annual test in all subjects would not measure the success of students who are being instructed segment-by-segment. A test designed to accommodate both criteria—the amount of content as well as the degree of mastery—would be ideal.
While there would be many intangible results of the changes proposed in this project, the desired outcomes are quantifiable. This is especially important in the field of education, since outcomes are what count. Do scores improve? Do productive behaviors increase? Does the United States compete better with its competitors? These are important questions to stakeholders that can and should be answered.
Another limitation that might be of some concern is whether states would be willing to adopt the program universally. This is a valid concern. It is unlikely that all states would adopt it simultaneously. However, recent trends indicate that states are becoming more willing to engage in uniform efforts to improve education. The Common Core State Standards Initiative as well as the uniform assessments being planned in conjunction with those standards demonstrate a new willingness on the part of states to cooperate and engage in uniform and simultaneous reform. (CCSSI.) If a pilot program was successfully implemented, and the data was encouraging, it would be possible in the current political atmosphere to achieve universal implementation. Federal involvement would facilitate this, as it did with No Child Left Behind. That is, by supplying federal funds to facilitate the adoption of a competency-based model, the federal government would provide a powerful incentive for the states. These two factors, the states' willingness to craft education policy together and the ability of the federal government to provide economic incentives, make it possible that the program could indeed be adopted at the national level. It should also be noted that federal intervention might supplant the need for a pilot study depending on the politics of the day. No pilot studies were used as justification for No Child Left Behind; the reform was a very top-down affair. (Ravitch, 2010.) This isn't to say that such a course of events would be preferable in this case, only that it would be possible given the way federal, state, and local politics tend to affect educational practices in the United States. (Loveless, 1999.)
Assessment of the program would require multiple stages. If the initial pilot study were successful, the program would need to be expanded. At each stage of the expansion, more assessment strategies would become useful. However, the most comprehensive and valid assessments would be made once the program was adopted nationally. Whether this occurred as the result of gradual district and state adoptions or a coordinated interstate or federal policy, a national scope would provide the best look at the success of the reforms.
When discussing the implementation phase of this project, it is important to keep in mind the problems the idea is designed to solve. Simply put, American students are falling behind their international counterparts. This is evident in the TIMSS test data, which places students in the United States eleventh among industrialized nations in mathematics and eighth in science. (TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, 2011.) As the need for technical education increases, the United States will need to produce more students prepared for such courses. However, academic achievement is not keeping up with these demands. For example, the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) was recently redesigned due to declining scores. (Ravitch, 2010.) Students are commonly promoted regardless of whether they have achieved any degree of mastery in the year's course material. While it is true that many states have enacted high school exit examinations, it is estimated that these tests only require an eighth-grade ability level in many subjects. (EdSource, 2003.) Even so, many students are finding it difficult to pass such tests and are thus either dropping out or going around the requirement by obtaining a GED. (Dee and Jacob, 2006.)
The purpose of a competency-based model of education is to prevent large-scale failure by catching deficiencies early and correcting them. That is, a student who is promoted to seventh or eighth grade without having met the fourth grade requirement to know his or her times tables will continue to fail at longer multiplication problems, long division, fractions, and algebra. The longer the root problem is ignored, the further behind the student will be. A competency-based model might have the short-term result of delaying new material, but it would ensure that when the new material is covered, the student would have the background skills necessary to understand it.
Moreover, thanks to recent reforms such as No Child Left Behind, the education system is straining under the burden of a one-sided system of accountability. Since students are generally passed along regardless of how well they perform, the only people held accountable for student outcomes are the teachers and school officials. For them, poor student performance has real and drastic consequences. (IDOE, 1999.) This inequality would be remedied by a competency-based system. Both students and educators would share responsibility for producing results; interests would coincide rather than being at odds, which often seems to be the case. (Ames, 1992.) Achievement goal setting, by both students and teachers, would facilitate improvement. In other words, as students take ownership of the results of their efforts, these results will be more relevant to them and thus serve as better motivators. (Ames, 1992.)
This project would take several years to achieve full implementation. Each piece of the plan would have to be implemented successfully in order to make the next step possible. To begin with, one should start with the pilot program. A school would have to be carefully selected (or an area selected in which to form the school) based on the area's history in accepting educational innovations. If an area has reacted poorly to school reform historically, it is unlikely to support this plan. Once a school or area is selected, the state curriculum will have to be organized in a learning hierarchy that fits the competency-based model. Each subject's annual curriculum will have to be strategically analyzed in order to be separated into three segments that build upon each other. For example, in fourth grade mathematics students might learn multi-step multiplication the first segment, multi-step multiplication using decimals the second segment, and begin long division the third segment. Proficiency in each of the prior segments would increase readiness for those that come next. (IDOE, 2010.) All of this content aligning would take at least six months and should be undertaken by a committee of educational professionals, preferably those who are still practicing teachers to ensure that the content will be applicable at a practical level. Once the content stratification is achieved, materials would have to be adapted to the new framework. For the pilot study, the same textbooks already in use might be used, but each book would have to be traversed in such a way as to align with each segment's goals. A curriculum guide unique to the pilot program would have to be created to help teachers use the materials in a way that is compatible with the program. The textbook publisher's ideas about structuring content are not likely to be tailored to a competency-based curriculum since they publish to suit their clients, who use an age-based system. Preparing a set of curriculum maps for the pilot program would take another three months and should be done by the same committee. In addition, a set of exit examinations would have to be created for each segment. The same committee would prepare these. Ideally, the committee would consist of at least two teachers from each grade level, Kindergarten through eighth grade, and four or five administrators, including one who is designated as the project leader.
Financially, a committee of current teachers is a money-saving idea. The further away from the classroom one moves in the world of public education, the more one is paid (in most cases). Using teachers instead of administrators means that one will pay for the extra time at a teacher's rate. Certainly a few higher-level employees should be on the committee as well, but a committee of primarily administrative personnel would be both expensive and too far removed from classroom practice to plan content in such a way as to maximize teacher effectiveness.
While the framework is being completed and the content is aligned, a principal dedicated to the success of the competency-based model should be selected. This principal might well be a member of the curriculum committee, which would make him or her intimately connected to and knowledgeable about the program. Teachers might be selected from this committee as well; the important point is that all of the staff understand the purpose of a competency-based model of education and are dedicated to its success. Specially selecting staff for this purpose will prevent those who may disagree politically from undermining the process. In short, the duration of aligning content, finding staff, and selecting a site for the pilot study should take about one year.
Implementation at the school site would require an analysis each term of how to group students based upon how they performed on the last set of end-of-term assessments. Those students who passed the exit examinations and who, through teacher recommendation, were evaluated as being prepared for the next level would be promoted. Those who did not would repeat the six-week course only in those subjects in which they did not meet proficiency goals. The principal and the student's teachers would meet with students who had to repeat a course to design a plan to enable better results as the course was repeated. The conference would include an analysis of the student's strengths and weaknesses, what worked for the student in those courses which were passed, and steps both the school and the student's family might take to ensure proficiency in that subject as the course was repeated. An individual action plan would be written down which might include a set time for homework each night, after-school tutoring, and additional materials to prepare for the end-of-unit examination. Since the requirements for promotion depend on both test results and teacher evaluations, the teacher who would instruct the student during the next term would set a timetable of goals to serve as a pathway to proficiency. Parents, teachers, and the student would sign the document agreeing to abide by its terms. In this way, not passing a section would not simply be a matter of failure, but would serve as an opportunity to refine the strategies of both teachers and students to better serve the aim of mastery of the subject matter. In certain cases, special education professionals would refer students for further evaluation. Students would have to analyze their contribution to the results and craft a plan to obtain better ones. Teachers would gain insight into the individual student's needs. Failure to reach competency would not be presented as a roadblock but as a step in learning to become a better student. When the next term begins, teachers would be assigned to classes as the needs of the students dictate. Teachers would have to be flexible enough to be given varied assignments depending on how many students were passing each course. If the curriculum materials were sufficiently organized and simple to use, the flexibility of the teaching staff would be greatly facilitated.
The pilot study itself would take five years to complete. As noted earlier, the assessment of the study would be continuous and based on a combination of state standardized assessment scores and end-of-segment examinations. The local school site would be responsible for tabulating such data and using it to make adaptations to the implementation model as necessary. A report would be produced each year by the principal to discuss results and things learned as the program is put into practice. These reports would serve as guideposts to others who might decide to adopt a competency-based education system. Success would be determined in the report by a number of factors. First, how did students' raw scores fare compared with the same students' previous records? What happened to the number of repeated courses over time? It would be likely that quite a few segments might have to be repeated at first, but that after a while the incidence of that happening would drop significantly. Whether or not such occurs is an important element of annual progress reports. How did the program affect student behavior, if at all? One desired result of the program would be an increase in student responsibility, and in-class behavior patterns should reflect that. Student office referral incidents could be compared to a demographically similar school in the same area, providing that both schools were in the same district and thus were privy to such information. Finally, trends in implementation should be included in the report. Are teachers reporting success with the program? Is it easy to implement at the classroom level? Are the materials and instructions clear enough? The report should include this information both to provide insight to potential adopters of a competency-based model and to enable the school staff to make adaptations as necessary.
Potential adaptations include provisions for special education students, parent objections to the new level of accountability, and the need to further refine the curriculum and assessment procedures. It must also be remembered that the pilot school will exist in the midst of a political policy landscape designed around an age-based system. This will affect statewide testing results, which might be skewed since proficiency leveling will not necessarily run parallel to age grouping. It will also probably be a source for contention, since the rules and requirements for the standard age-based education system may not fit well with a competency-based model. Since each state has its own requirements for items such as ethnic balancing, special education and curriculum modification, and even what constitutes proficiency on state test examinations, these factors will have to be dealt with depending on the specifics of the locality. However, even if certain concessions are required by state and local policy, these could still be tailored to application in this sort of a system. For example, special education modifications are tailored to each individual student in a committee, and would thus only affect the program for those individual students. (USDOE, 2007.)
At the end of the five-year pilot study, a final report would be drafted. This report would contain longitudinal progress data for the school. It would also detail the degree to which requiring proficiency in each segment prepared students for the next segment by comparing segment passage rates for the student's first set of exit examinations to the passage rates for the last set of exit examinations. If the program is a success, these should be significantly higher. The report should include some subjective data, such as teacher, student, and parent surveys. It should also include the same sort of student morale and discipline data as each annual report would include; in fact, the trend in the annual data on these subjects would be analyzed in the final report. The purpose of the final report would be to enable decision-making both at the local level and beyond. Is the program functioning as intended? What are the flaws in implementation, and how should those flaws be corrected? Is the core principle, promoting students in each subject by competence on key standards, workable in real life? Depending on the answers to such questions, the pilot could serve as a model for implementation on a wider scale.
The budget for this phase of implementation would depend on the state's going wage for teachers and staff. By using national statistics, an average of roughly $10,500 is spent per pupil. (NCES, 2011.) In many states, a significant amount of that money is spent before it gets to the individual school site, which means that the budget for the school will be much less than what one would calculate by simply multiplying the cost per pupil by the number of pupils. According to California State Senator Bob Huff, approximately sixty percent of state education funds are spent on administrative overhead, with a mere forty percent making it to the classroom level, including teacher salaries. (Huff, 2011.) If one assumes that the situation is marginally better nationally, then the average real funding per pupil would be closer to $6,000. If classes were staffed at an average ratio of thirty students per teacher and there were roughly sixty children at each grade level, there would be approximately five hundred students at the school resulting in a school budget totaling three million dollars. Assuming that the pilot school would constrain itself to that budget, the five-year cost of funding the school would total fifteen million dollars. However, that would be equal to the cost of educating the same children at any other school, meaning that no additional expenses would be incurred. Preparation for the study would require additional funding. If the committee spends ten hours per week over the course of forty weeks (the average length of a school year), and the average hourly cost per teacher is $28.50, the total cost of a committee of sixteen teachers would be $182,400. (PayScale, 2011.) Adding four administrators at double the hourly cost, and the figure increases to $273,600. Assuming random costs such as paper, power, and other necessities, an estimate of $300,000 would cover the research and development of the program.
Once the pilot program is completed, or perhaps as it is under way depending on the annual reports and public interest, a wider implementation would begin. This step depends on the success of the pilot program, but is part of the larger purpose of the project. As emphasized earlier in this report, a wider scale of implementation, especially at the state level or beyond, would greatly enhance the outcome by coordinating state policies and procedures with those at the local level of implementation.
Analyzing the steps for implementing the plan at the level of a single state would serve as a synopsis for implementation at the national level, since the same steps would be required for each state adopting the program. The majority of states in the United States have adopted the Common Core Standards. Thus, the learning targets for each subject have already been set for each school year in the current system. States implementing a uniform competency-based system would have the benefit of the materials used in the pilot program. In addition, states that decide to adopt the system after seeing it successfully adopted in other states would have those resources available as well. This would facilitate the growth of a competency-based model nationwide.
Examining the implementation at the state level, the first step would be to attract the attention of state education policy-makers to the results of the pilot school. Considering the attention granted to test scores in the modern educational environment, if the pilot school meets its goals the attention will be gained. (Ravitch, 2010.) The state department of education would then have to propose that the program be adopted statewide. This would require a consortium of district superintendents to explain the rationale for the change, gain insight and input into implementation, and resolve concerns. However, district superintendents ultimately answer to the state superintendent; while local support would help smooth the implementation process, the policy could be enacted without it. (Shock, 2010.) A sympathetic state legislator would have to be found and convinced to author a bill mandating the use of a competency-based structure in all state-sponsored schools. In addition to such a mandate, state standardized tests would have to be aligned with the new format, breaking each annual test into sections matching the content in each curriculum segment. Such an examination scheme would provide a method of evaluating both the amount of content learned over time as well as the degree of mastery achieved in each curriculum segment. Considering that every state has staff in charge of standardized testing, no additional staff would be required for this purpose. (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007.) One hurdle to cross politically would be convincing parents, or the voting public at large, that holding students accountable for their learning would be both just and advantageous. For this purpose, a successful pilot program would be critical. If it could be demonstrated that the idea worked well when tested, the public would be much more likely to approve of statewide implementation.
Assuming that the public accepts the idea and that it passes the state legislature, the governor would have to sign the bill. If one considers that in many states the governor appoints the state superintendent of schools, the governor would likely also endorse any measure promoted by the state superintendent. Once the legislation is passed, the process of creating a uniform set of standards and obtaining a set of materials designed for a competency-based model would begin.
Considering that states already have systems in place to manage state curriculum standards, the process of further refining the existing standards into smaller segments would be accomplished by the same staff. (Ravitch, 2010.) The pilot program's curriculum could serve as a model for how to refine the standards into a format compatible with a competency-based system, although further refinements would certainly be added along the way. The aforementioned state tests would coordinate with the new standard scheme, and a set of exit examinations for each segment would be crafted. Such examinations could be either summative or cumulative. That is, a single test could be used to determine competency, or the results of a series of assessments given during each course might be used. For example, an English composition class might use a series of essays as the measure of competency, with a rubric of key skills being used to determine whether a student is proficient or not. In mathematics, an end-of-unit test might be a better fit. The state department of education would decide which criteria would be the best fit for each curriculum segment.
Materials, including textbooks and curriculum maps, would then be developed specifically tailored to the purpose of helping students meet curriculum targets. These materials would be aligned to the end-of-unit tests and would cover each of the curricular objectives for that subject and section. This would solve one of the major frustrations of educators, which is the fact that it is currently difficult to ensure that everything that is tested on state examinations has been covered by the time examinations are given. Many states give the annual tests as early as one month before the end of the school year, which means that over ten percent of the material for that year has yet to be covered. (Foundation for Florida's Future, 2010.) A state testing system that is aligned to the way content is delivered would be much more accurate and attainable for both students and educators. In other words, annual testing should occur after the final segments for a given school year have been completed, and should be organized to test content in the same organizational framework as it is delivered. This could be accomplished by committee at the state department of education, or by hiring professional education publishers to work with curriculum staff and create a set of materials, in-class assessments, and annual standardized tests.
At the state level, the superintendent's office would develop a set of benchmarks to determine the success of the program at the state level, improve implementation should problems arise, and assess the desirability of the program every four years. The four-year time frame is significant because it mirrors the way schools are typically organized, and would amount to half of the period in which students would be expected to accomplish all of the curricular goals before high school. A report on the program's progress would be prepared by the state superintendent's office and would be available both on an annual basis and also after the program review every four years. This report would inform the public on the effects of the program on academic attainment and recommend whether these effects warranted continuation of the program.
Adoption at the national level would likely occur when and if states see that the competency-based model is working in other states. In addition, should the current Presidential administration become convinced of its efficacy, funding for materials and assessments could be used to entice participation. However, the essential implementation process for each state would mirror that already discussed. Similar to the way states have embraced the Common Core State Standards, uniformity in the implementation of a competency-based model would occur as state agencies coordinated their efforts to save money by using economies of scale. That is, materials would be costly to produce if each state were to work independently. However, if many states were to adopt the same materials and assessments, the price would be substantially lower. (Sederberg and Tholkes, 1990.)
Implementation of the program at the local school level would mirror that of the pilot school. Students would be grouped into classes based on which curriculum segments they have successfully completed, and would be instructed using materials designed for that purpose. It would be simpler to implement the policy for schools after the state adopted the policy due to the fact that a set of materials and assessments specifically designed for a competency-based system would be available from the start. The pilot program would have to adapt materials designed for an age-based model, while schools that implement the program later will be implementing a curriculum that has already been developed and adapted for classroom use. Teacher and administrator training would be required to ensure proper implementation at the district and school site level. However, education professionals are already accustomed to training sessions and professional development courses. Still, a set of training materials as well as seminars for district staff that will do the training will be necessary.
Most of the costs of implementing a competency-based system of education are the same costs that would occur in the current system. New assessments are devised on a regular basis. Curriculum is reevaluated periodically in every school system. New textbooks are adopted every few years in most states. Indeed, many states have laws mandating that materials be updated on a regular basis; the average cycle for textbook adoptions is every 6 years. (SETDA, 2011.) The same staff that manages the current system would manage the new system. The changes would largely be structural, but the structure would be adaptable to the personnel and facilities already in use. Schools could still be organized by chronological age, though some class overlapping would be necessary. The same number of teachers would be necessary, but their duties would have to be adapted to the curricular needs of the students. In short, while the structure of content delivery would change drastically, the organizational structure of the education system would remain intact. This would facilitate the transition by taking advantage of those who have already gained expertise in the field.
The program would certainly encounter obstacles on the way to full implementation. Lawsuits by unhappy parents might occur as the result of students
who do not adapt well to the increased level of personal accountability. Depending on the demographics of student success within the program, there might be civil rights concerns. Teacher resistance is a possibility, given the fact that implementation will require increased flexibility in the classes teachers are asked to teach. These issues will have to be handled by the state superintendent's office of each state. As time passes, it may become evident that the order in which certain sets of curriculum standards are taught needs to be changed. Such adjustments will enhance the effectiveness of the program. The key to the program's success is that it must be implemented long enough to become normative in the public mindset. Parents and students must be involved in the program long enough to realize that it is going to persist and that schools and districts will indeed follow through with the requirement that classes which are not passed must be repeated. Failure to enforce this policy, except in cases involving special education requirements, will lead to the program's failure.
A competency-based model of education is an idea that can be implemented at any level. A pilot program at a single school, if successful, could be used to gain political traction for statewide and national implementation of the idea. It is a simple concept that, if well organized and practiced, could revolutionize public education. It would be expected that scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as well as international measures such as TIMSS and PIRLS would reflect the efficacy of the program. The coordination of local, state, and national agencies would maximize the effective implementation of the program. It is a policy that would have enduring effects on the nation's work ethic and economy; emerging students would be accustomed to being responsible for their own outcomes, and since graduates would be more proficient and college-ready, there would be a greater potential to produce more technically skilled citizens. Successful implementation of a competency-based model of education would benefit all stakeholders.
Ames, C. (1992.) “Classrooms: Goals, structures, and student motivation.” (http://www.unco.edu/cebs/psychology/kevinpugh/motivation_project/resources /ames92.pdf)
According to this article, students and teachers need to both establish a mindset in which mastery is the key objective. Mutual goal setting is a key factor.
Anderson, R. (1962.) “The case for non-graded, homogeneous grouping.” The Elementary School Journal, Vol. 62 No. 4. (http://www.jstor.org/pss/999972)
The article describes an experimental program in East Brunswick, New Jersey in which students from several grades were grouped in classes based on their specific ability levels in various subjects.
Aron, L. and Zweig, J. “Educational aternatives for vulnerable youth: Student needs, program types, and research directions” Urban Institute. (http://www.urban.org/url.cfm?ID=410898&renderforprint=1)
The article describes the need for a greater range of student-specific techniques than is available in the current system. Student needs are not being met by current practices, especially those of low-ability and at-risk students.
Benninga, J. et al. (1991.) “Effects of two contrasting school task and incentive structures on children's social development.” The Elementary School Journal, Vol. 92, No. 2. pp. 149 – 167. (http://www.csufresno.edu/bonnercenter/documents/ Effects.pdf)
The article describes two different modalities, one in which students are given explicit rewards and consequences for the results of their efforts, and one in which intrinsic motivation was stressed. The achievement rates and student confidence was higher when motivators were extrinsic as opposed to intrinsic, though students were more competitive in their relations with each other.
Briggs, L. (1967.) “Sequencing of instruction in relation to hierarchies of competence.”
U.S. Department of Education. (http://eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED018975.pdf)
This detailed report outlines the need for and benefits of developing a rational sequence of educational goals that students can follow to build upon prior knowledge in an orderly fashion. In short, competence in prerequisite skills should be demonstrated before advancing to work on higher-level material.
The Brookings Institution. (2003.) “No Child Left Behind? The politics and practice of accountability.” (http://brookings.edu/comm/events/20031211.pdf)
This document is a transcript of a panel discussion of experts regarding the success or failure of NCLB, including its failure to include students as part of the accountability matrix.
Bruner, J. (1999.) The process of education. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.
This book describes the sequencing of educational goals in a systematic manner, laying out the ways in which education can take place in a common-sense, skill-by-skill framework. Education is treated as a training process to develop a specific set of skills and knowledge.
Collaborative Learning Inc. (http://www.clihome.com/solutions/curriculum-mapper- features.aspx)
This website describes software widely used to map curriculum implementation on a month-by-month basis to ensure full coverage of the subject matter.
Common Core State Standards Initiative. (http://www.corestandards.org/)
This website is the home of the growing initiative to adopt common core standards in the subjects of mathematics, reading, writing,and science. Many states have adopted these standards already and are working to develop common assessments to measure progress. Such uniformity will enable education leaders to design strategies to address regional as well as national difficulties.
Cortiella, C. (2005.) “No Child Left Behind: Making the most of options for IDEA eligible students.” National Center for Learning Disabilities. (http://eric.ed.gov/
This document contains tips for parents of children affected by NCLB mandates who happen to have children in special education or other subgroups that often have difficulty meeting proficiency goals.
Davidson, B. and Davidson, J. (2004.) Genius denied: How to stop wasting our brightest minds. Simon & Schuster: New York, NY.
This book compiles a large body of research about the needs of gifted children and the way the current school system underserves them.
Dee, T. and Jacob, B. (2006.) “Do high school exit exams influence educational attainment or labor market performance?” National Bureau of Economic Research. (http://nber.org/papers/w12199)
This paper debates whether high school exit examinations have much effect, noting that they have created higher dropout rates among minorities as well as resulting in many students opting to acquire a GED.
EdSource. (2003.) “The California High School Exit Exam.” (http://www.edsource. org/assets/files/QA_hseefinal.pdf)
This document describes the California exit exam, what it covers, and the level of difficulty.
Evertson, C. et al. (1981.) “Effects of class heterogeneity in junior high school.” American Education Resources, Vol. 18 No. 2. pp. 219 – 232. (http://aer.sagepub.com /content/18/2/219.short)
This article suggests that class heterogeneity makes it more difficult for teachers to meet the individual needs of students because these are more varied, which means that the whole-group lesson is not within the ability range of a significant proportion of the students. This also leads to discipline issues and off-task behaviors which interrupt the learning process.
Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. (2011.) “America's children: Key national indicators of well-being, 2011.” (http://childstats.gov/pdf/ac2011 /ac_11.pdf)
This government report describes statistical information regarding the state of American society in terms of trends in family life. This includes dropout rates and other child-related information.
Foundation for Florida's Future. (2010.) “FCAT frequently asked questions.” (http://www.foundationforfloridasfuture.org/pages/Florida_Formula/FCAT_ Frequently_Asked_Questions.aspx)
This document describes the rules for administering Florida's state standardized test, the FCAT, including the annual time frame for administering the test.
Green, P. (2003.) “The undocumented: Educating the children of migrant workers in America.” University of California, Riverside. (http://ks-idr.org/resources/ems/ educating_children_migrant.pdf)
This essay describes the difficulties inherent in working with the children of undocumented immigrants, many of whom are American citizens.
Grossen, B. (1996.) “How should we group to achieve excellence with equity?” University of Oregon. (http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~adiep/grp.htm)
In this paper, Dr. Grossen examines whether ability grouping is necessarily discriminatory, what its benefits may be for those who are grouped, and what the drawbacks may be as well. She contends that negative effects are minimal for low- and middle-achieving students, while positive effects are significant for gifted students. This effect carries on regardless of race or income level.
Gwartney, J. et al. (2010.) Common Sense Economics. St. Martin's Press: New York, NY.
This textbook for economics students explains the key principles of economic theory by giving current, everyday examples. The primary rule named in the book is that people act in accordance with the incentives presented to them.
Hechinger, J. (2010.) “U.S. teens lag as China soars on international test.”
Bloomberg. (http://www.bloomberg.com /news/2010-12-07/teens-in-u-s-rank- 25th-on-math-test-trail-in-science-reading.html)
This article notes the issues facing the United States in terms of international competition. Education success has direct ties to economic success. As China's economy has taken off, its education system has become more universal and structured. Failing to compete academically will lead to poorer performance economically.
Hishinuma, E. (1990.) “A theoretical and pragmatic application of paradigmatic behaviorism: Screening and identification of high potential/underachievers.” University of Hawaii. (http://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/handle/10125/ 10209)
This thesis paper describes the ways in which behavior is shaped by placement into ability-grouped classes. It also describes the way schools shape behavior purposefully by such policies and whether or not they get the desired results.
Huff, B. (2011.) “The facts on California's education funding.” (http://cssrc.us/%28X %281%29A%28CmKbD42NzAEkAAAAYmY3MWMxODYtYTFlNC00N2U zLWIwNDYtMmQ3NjEzMGU3ZmZjuVSLJzhfafzdAR7M1eAxO2wE4- c1%29%29/web/29/education.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1))
This short essay by a California state legislator makes the argument that education is not underfunded, but that the money is being used inefficiently. Huff cites statistics indicating that 60% of funds are spent on administration at some level or another, and that only 40% is spent in the classroom.
Hyde, H. (1996.) “Clinton's national workforce and education plan, Goals 2000, and OBE.” (http://www.eagleforum.org/educate/1996/may96/focus.html)
This is a letter sent by Rep. Hyde to his congressional peers after the submission of Goals 2000 by President Bill Clinton. He warns of the plan being vague and inserting narrow political viewpoints and objectives into local schools. It is also a good example of local resistance to federal involvement in education, and why any involvement must be advisory in nature only.
Indiana Department of Education. (1999.) “Frequently asked questions: Public Law 221.” (http://doe.in.gov/pl221/docs/2011/pl221_faq_2011.pdf)
Public Law 221 creates categories for schools based on state assessment scores, assigning each school a letter grade. This information is required to be posted publicly and also determines state-mandated school improvement measures, which may include removing the current staff and replacing it.
Indiana Department of Education. (2010.) “Indiana standards and resources.” (http://
This document details the state's curriculum in each subject for every grade level.
Kulik, J. (1993.) “An analysis of the research on ability grouping.” National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented Newsletter, Spring 1993. (http://www. giftedteam.org/pdf/links/ability_grouping_studies2.pdf)
According to this meta-analysis, ability grouping is beneficial not only for the gifted student, but for all types of students.
Lafont, J. and Martimort, D. (2002.) The theory of incentives: The principal-agent model. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ.
This book explores the practical application of economic theory as it applies to other fields, including education. It posits that incentives shape human behavior, and that many human behaviors can be traced to either positive or negative incentives. This applies to education because the current system has no incentives for those students who are not already intrinsically motivated.
Loveless, T. (2009.) “Tracking and detracking: High achievers in Massachusetts middle schools.” Thomas B. Fordham Institute.(http://www.edexcellence.net/ publications-issues/publications/tracking-and-detracking-high.html)
This report finds that detracked schools produce fewer advanced students in mathematics than tracked schools. In addition, there are more detracked schools in poor and minority areas. This would imply that these students are being granted fewer opportunities to take advanced courses; thus, failing to track in this case has created racially disproportionate outcomes.
Loveless, T. (1999.) The tracking wars: State reform meets school policy. Brookings Institution Press: Washington, D.C.
This book is the result of a longitudinal study of detracking policy implementation and its effects on achievement. It debunks the idea that tracking is established as a form of racial segregation, noting that detracking is most prominent in areas with significant minority populations, whereas tracking has survived mostly in areas with few minority students, making segregation moot. It also refutes the myth that tracking harms educational attainment—according to the book, detracking policy seems to limit opportunities for gifted students, but has no effect on low or medium ability students.
Mathis, W. (2003.) “No Child Left Behind: Costs and benefits.” Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 84. (http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst?docId=5006361873)
This article analyzes the benefits and drawbacks of George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind policy. It suggests that while the idea of accountability is a positive, it creates a set of incentives that leads to questionable practices by state education agencies, schools, and teachers. For example, teaching to the test might be viewed as cheating depending on how much teachers know about the specific questions on the tests. Also, states have reduced the difficulty of tests to appear to be doing better than they really are.
Measures of Effective Teaching. “MET project teaching conditions survey.” (http://
This document describes the national survey on teaching conditions conducted by MET, including such concerns as anonymity.
Munson, L. (2011.) “What students really need to learn.” Educational Leadership, Vol. 68 No. 6. (http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational- leadership /mar11 /vol68/num06/What-Students-Really-Need-to-Learn.aspx)
This article focuses on the new Common Core Standards and promotes the depth and specificity of the knowledge and skills they require. The article acknowledges that basic mathematics and literacy are important, but also notes that problem-solving skills, history, geography, and science must also be taught in depth. The Common Core Standards Initiative is an attempt to deal with the issue of academic narrowing as the result of high-stakes annual testing.
National Association of School Psychologists. (2003.) “Position statement on student grade retention and social promotion.” (http://www.nasponline.org/about_nasp /pospaper_graderetent.aspx)
This report explains why grade level retention is bad for students psychologically, while listing a number of alternatives.
National Association of School Psychologists. (2008.) “Ready to learn, empowered to teach: Excellence in education for the 21st century.” (http://www.nasponline.org /advocacy/2008educationpolicydocument.pdf)
This document lays out core principles that research has indicated are effective, including high expectations, individualized instruction, student accountability, and coordinated policies at the national level.
National Center for Education Statistics. (2007.) “State education reforms: Table 2.15.”
This table lists the types of cumulative standardized assessments given by each state.
National Center for Education Statistics. (2011.) “Digest of Education Statistics 2010: Table 190.” (http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d10/tables/dt10_190.asp?referrer=list)
This table chronicles the average education spending per pupil from 1919 through 2008.
PayScale. (2011.) “Salary for all K-12 teachers.” (http://www.payscale.com/research /US/All_K-12_Teachers/Salary)
The table and graph display average salaries for various categories of public school teachers.
Peterson, P. (2003.) “Ticket to nowhere.” Education Next, Vol. 3 No. 2. (http://
Peterson describes how trends in SAT and other test scores have declined over the last thirty years, and concludes that current reforms are not sufficient to reverse the trend.
Pintrich, P. (2000.) “An achievement goal theory perspective on issues on motivation terminology, theory, and research.” Contemporary Educational Psychology, No. 25 pp. 92 – 104.(http://www.unco.edu/cebs/psychology/kevinpugh/motivation _project/ resources /pintrich00.pdf)
This article discusses the psychological research on the idea that having firm, set goals increases student motivation. It concludes that students tend to perform better when they are motivated by the knowledge that there will be real-world consequences, either positive or negative, for the decisions and effort they make.
Ravitch, D. (2010.) The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. Basic Books: New York, NY.
Ravitch analyzes the effects of No Child Left Behind and offers suggestions about how to turn things around, including a common set of national standards and uniform assessments that are meaningful to those taking them. She criticizes giving schools and teachers sole accountability for student outcomes.
Ravitch, D. (2000.) Left back: A century of failed school reforms. Touchstone: New York, NY.
In this book, Ravitch discusses various failed reform movements and analyzes why the phenomenon of “fad” reforms is bad for education. Primarily, she faults the change in focus from curriculum to test-taking as one of the primary culprits in educational decline.
Richards, J. (Mar. 20, 2011.) “Schools' pass rates on state tests aren't full story.” The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus, OH.
This article notes the differences in what is considered passing between states and how Ohio's passing criteria have changed. What is more, criteria vary even year-to-year and grade-to-grade.
Riggal, A. and Sharp, C. (2008.) “The structure of primary education: England and other countries.” National Foundation for Educational Research. (http://www.nfer.ac.uk/ nfer/publications/PRO01/PRO01.pdf)
This article compares the ways in which British primary education differs in structure from that of other nations and how this affects academic achievement. It compares the systems of the United States and several Asian nations and discusses the advantages and disadvantages of the United Kingdom's current structure.
Rohlen, T. (1983.) Japan's high schools. University of California Press: Berkeley, CA.
This book describes in detail the methodology and structure of primary and secondary education in Japan, especially as they relate to the pressure to pass college entrance exams and even high school entrance exams. In Japan, accountability for results is most salient for the students, who are therefore very cooperative and focused.
Rohlfsen, K. (2009.) “No Child Left Behind.” University of Northern Iowa.
This thesis project discusses the lack of realism in the No Child Left Behind goals, such as having 100% of all students proficient in every subject, including special education students and recent immigrants, by the year 2014. It notes that the idea of accountability is a positive development, but that it must be adjusted or the entire education system will shortly be labeled “failing” for not meeting an impossible target. This will result in massive upheaval.
Sederberg, C. and Tholkes, R. (1990.) “Economies of scale and rural schools.” Research in Rural Education, Vol. 7 No. 1. (http://jrre.psu.edu/articles/v7,n1,p9- 15,Tholkes.pdf)
This article describes how schools in rural areas save money by combining purchases and engaging in economies of scale.
Shin, J. et al. (2009.) “Student and school factors affecting mathematics achievement: International comparisons between Korea, Japan, and the USA.” School Psychology International, Vol. 30 No. 5. (http://spi.sagepub.com/content/30/5 / 520.abstract)
This article describes both the cultural and systemic factors that affect mathematics achievement, including the accountability built into most Asian systems and the different locus of responsibility between Asian and American schools. Achievement discrepancies
are not merely the result of culture, but also the way in which classes are organized and taught as well as the firmness of expectations in each country's schools.
Shock, D. (2010.) “Home rule for school districts? An interstate analysis of local school district discretionary authority in the U.S.” The New England Journal of Political Science, Vol. 5 No. 1. (http://www.northeastern.edu/nepsa/journal/archives/ the_new_england7/documents/Home_Rule_for_School_Districts.pdf)
The article analyzes the degree to which local school districts are beholden to state policy or free to exercise discretionary authority. It finds that curriculum and standards are generally controlled at the state level, while spending and hiring are managed locally.
Sowell, T. (2009.) Applied economics: Thinking beyond stage one. Basic Books: New York, NY.
This book describes the long term effects of incentives, both intended and unintended. These effects may be economic, social, political, or all three.
State Educational Technology Directors Association. (2011.) “National education technology trends: 2011.” (http://www.setda.org/web/guest/2011nationaltrends)
This document provides an in-depth discussion of educational technology including textbooks, electronic information sources, and traditional classroom tools.
Stearns, H. (1938.) America now: An inquiry into civilization in the United States. The Literary Guild of America: New York, NY.
This book discusses trends in American society as of 1938 and predicts what its author believed would happen thereafter. This includes the idea that psychology would come to be more and more important in the field of education.
Stevenson, D. “Goals 2000 and local reform.” Teachers College Record, Vol. 96 No. 3, pp. 458 - 466. (http://www.tcrecord.org)
This article describes the responsibility of states to implement the Goals 2000 guidelines. Since each state is to create its own standards and devise a way to assess them, the program managed to start the curriculum standards discussion in the education field but otherwise accomplished nothing significant.
TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center. (2011.) (http://timssandpirls.bc.edu/)
This is the main website of the organization which creates, administers, and analyzes the two primary internationally comparative examinations of educational attainment.
U.S. Department of Education. (2007.) “A guide to the Individualized Education Program.” (http://ed.gov/parents/needs/speced/iepguide/index.html)
This document details the steps schools must take to accommodate students with special needs as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act and other legislation.
U.S. Department of Education. (1983.) “A nation at risk.” (http://www2.ed.gov/pubs/ NatAtRisk/risk.html)
This document is widely held to be the beginning of a national emphasis on education reform. It describes the issues the nation was facing at the time of its writing and outlines some specific steps to address these issues. For example, a re-emphasis on curriculum and standards is one step that has already been accomplished.
United States Department of Education. “What is NAEP?” (http://nces.ed.gov/ nationsreportcard/)
This website explains the purpose of the National Assessment of Educational Progress and its implications in state-to-state comparisons. It is interesting to note that there is often a wide discrepancy between the percentage of students passing state assessments and the percentage in each state passing the NAEP. This would indicate that the reforms in No Child Left Behind have led to coping mechanisms by the states in order to meet federal requirements rather than real improvement.
Wheelock, A. (1992.) “The case for untracking.” Educational Leadership, Vol. 50 No. 2.
(http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&ERICExt Search_SearchValue_0=EJ451468&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno= EJ451468)
This article examines tracking from a critical perspective, asserting that it places students into groups from which it is difficult to move forward.