STATE SCHOOL PANEL FINDS STANDARDS SLOW TO CATCH ON
By Stephanie Banchero
SPRINGFIELD -- Despite an aggressive three-year push to get local schools to adopt state learning standards, teachers and principals are taking a cautious approach, making only small tweaks in their curricula or ignoring standards all together, according to a study released Wednesday.
The report, conducted for the Illinois State Board of Education by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, found only a slight improvement compared with 1999 statistics.
Last year, educators in about 15 percent of schools surveyed said they were aligning their curricula to the new state educational standards in subjects including math, reading, writing and science.
This year, 19 percent said they are doing so.
Educators in the remaining schools said they were aware of the new standards but are taking a conservative approach to translating those standards into daily teaching.
State Schools Supt. Max McGee said he was not surprised by the report but promised state officials will redouble their efforts to help school districts implement the learning standards, a set of guidelines outlining what students should know in 30 areas and when they should know it. The state then uses the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) to test students' mastery of those subjects.
"I wish we had made more progress," McGee said. "But sometimes you need a report like this to change how you do business."
Board of Education officials adopted the learning standards in 1997 and have spent the last three years trying to persuade educators at the local level to embrace the standards and the accompanying exams. In many cases, they have been met with resistance from teachers and superintendents who believe the board's recent educational reforms are simply a passing fancy.
In last year's survey, many teachers said they were not aligning their curricula because they feared state officials would back away from the tough standards if test results did not dramatically improve and a political firestorm ensued.
"In some ways, I don't blame them," said board member Bill Hill. "We seem to be constantly changing the game, and a lot of them want to wait us out."
But Hill, McGee and other board members made it clear Wednesday they are not backing down from the rigorous academic guidelines they set for Illinois' students and schools. And they promised to step up efforts to help districts embrace the new standards.
McGee said board officials plan to meet with local PTAs, teachers unions and, in some cases, local school board members to raise awareness and support for the academic reforms. He also said the state plans to post student work online, showing how best to meet each standard.
According to the study, the biggest obstacle to implementation of the learning standards is that local school officials are not convinced that getting their curricula in line with the state will translate into higher scores on the ISAT. And it's the ISAT results that dictate how schools and teachers will be judged in the public arena.
"School folks are not convinced that there is a direct linkage between the learning standards and the ISAT," said Nona Prestine, principal investigator, who helped prepare the report. "In a world where you [teachers] have a lot of things impinging on you for your precious time, your efforts are going to go toward raising test scores, not aligning standards." ********************************************** -- Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O] (618) 457-8903 [H] Fax: (618) 453-4244 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org