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high, and the same for all students. Reformers argue that setting clear, high standards for all students will help improve their performance by giving students, parents, and teachers a vivid picture of what good work looks like and what they have to do to produce it.
Aligning Assessments. Assessments are linked to standards so closely in discussions of standards-based reform that the two are often referred to almost as one word: “standards-and-assessments.” But the link is important. Assessments make the standards concrete by providing students with opportunities to demonstrate the knowledge and skills the standards call for. At the same time, they serve as a means by which students, parents, teachers, and administrators can know the extent to which students are meeting the standards.
Providing Flexibility. For years, educators have complained that the plethora of rules associated with Title I have hamstrung their efforts to redesign their instructional programs and have forced them to use questionable practices in order to comply with statutory mandates. For example, administrators say, schools have pulled Title I students out of their regular classrooms in order to provide specialized instruction for them, even though research suggests that such programs have been implemented in ineffective ways, because schools were required to demonstrate that they were in fact providing compensatory education services to eligible children.
Standards-based reform changes the rules of the game by measuring performance against standards rather than compliance with procedures. Policy makers will know if their money is spent well if student performance improves, not if schools follow rules faithfully. Thus, lawmakers can relax rules that mandate how schools must go about their jobs. And that, in turn, will help improve student performance, reformers say, by reducing the impediments schools now face in designing instructional programs appropriate for their student populations.
Requiring Accountability. Accountability is the flip side of the coin of flexibility. In exchange for the freedom to design instructional programs according to local needs, schools in standards-based systems are no longer held accountable for following rules and procedures and making sure that funds are spent as intended. Rather, they are accountable for results—for ensuring that student learning improves.
Holding schools accountable for results serves a number of purposes. Accountability helps keep educators' “eyes on the prize,” reducing the possibility that they will spend their time on issues less directly related to improving student performance. On the other hand, accountability creates an incentive for teachers and administrators at all levels to use standards to guide curricular and instructional decisions, and to use assessment results to diagnose problems and suggest ways to improve. On the other hand, holding schools accountable for some other set of instructional goals will encourage schools to focus on those goals, rather than the standards, regardless of how compelling the standards may be.