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Table of Contents
by Ron Brandt
Outcome-based education has been the topic of acrimonious debates in many states and school systems. The furor surprised some educators who, after years of hearing calls for “results” from political and business leaders, assumed that most parents and citizens would support a move to more definite outcomes and means of assessing them. Perhaps the majority of people do agree with the principles of OBE—or would if they understood them—but highly vocal critics have how raised enough questions about how OBE might work in practice to create doubts among informed members of the public about its desirability.
Should education be outcome-based? Some might argue that it already is, to some extent. Nearly all education institutions have goals that supposedly guide their work. When educators plan curriculums or teachers plan lessons for their classes, they usually start by clarifying the purposes.
Still, advocates of OBE say that traditional schools are really time-based. Teachers and principals may want students to learn something, but they typically allocate a certain amount of time to study of that topic and then move on, whether or not students have mastered it. For schools to be fully outcome-based, they must organize so that outcomes are fixed, and time and other resources needed to achieve the outcomes are variable.
OBE is more of a philosophy than a uniform set of practices. Many states and school systems have adopted the philosophy in part by emphasizing outcomes schools are expected to achieve, but few have changed all of their rules and regulations to be compatible with the notion that every aspect of schooling must be based on outcomes rather than on other considerations, such as length of the school year. Similarly, some programs that are consistent with the OBE philosophy do not use that terminology. Some have no special designation; some are called results-based or performance-based. The programs described below represent some of the varied approaches to OBE.
A well-established example of OBE in actual use is the Johnson City, New York, schools (Vickery 1990). The Johnson City program, called by its developers the Outcomes-Driven Developmental Model or ODDM, was launched by John Champlain in the early 1970s. The program was originally described as a mastery learning program (the term outcome-based was not in use at that time). Al Mamary, former superintendent, says the major difference between mastery learning and ODDM is that ODDM puts increased emphasis on the studentapos;s role. In a mastery learning program, teachers take responsibility for making sure that most students learn. Under ODDM, students are informed of the outcomes and expected to assume responsibility for achieving them (Brandt 1994). ODDM is described as having a strong philosophical and psychological base as well as a technical one.
Perhaps the best-known model of OBE was developed by Bill Spady and his associates at the High Success Network. Spady lists four principles that he believes should characterize OBE:
Concerned that some people equate outcome-based education with mastery learning, Spady and his colleague Kit Marshall have developed a way of categorizing OBE programs. Mastery learning, they explain, is a technique for insuring that more students learn well, but it applies to any content. Outcome-based education incorporates the principles of mastery learning but goes beyond them to be concerned with what students are to learn and why.
Spady and Marshall use the term traditional OBE for OBE programs in which the outcomes are defined as mastery of traditional subject matter: English, mathematics, science, and so on (Spady and Marshall 1991). Programs with content outcomes but also higher order outcomes such as being able to work with others are transitional. Spady and Marshall advocate transformational OBE, in which outcomes are derived from careful analysis of what students must be able to do to succeed in the future. These transformational outcomes are be demonstrations of life “performance roles” such as problem solver and teacher (Spady 1994). The action planning workbook by Charles Schwahn that follows in this chapter of the ASCD Curriculum Handbook stems from this TOBE approach.
An approach complementary to OBE that many educators have found to be helpful is the performance assessment system developed by Bob Marzano and associates at the Midcontinent Regional Educational Laboratory (McREL). Responding to educators whose school systems have adopted transitional outcomes and who need a valid way to assess them, the model involves writing performance tasks that specifically include elements of several different outcomes in one challenging task (Marzano, Pickering, and McTighe 1993). Because assessment of student performance is an essential part of OBE, the Marzano model is a useful supplement to transitional OBE programs.
Educators who accept the OBE philosophy begin by involving teachers, parents, citizens, and students in establishing the outcomes students are to demonstrate. These outcomes may be traditional—in terms of subject matter—or may include other outcomes, such as ability to communicate in a variety of forms, or the ability to perform life roles, such as “creators and producers.”.
When outcomes have been established, educators should design curriculum to give students the knowledge and skills they need to demonstrate the outcomes. In many cases the outcomes will be such that they can be assessed only with performance assessment, not conventional tests, so the school's assessment processes will need to be different. Finally, educators need to examine every other aspect of the school's operation to determine what changes are needed—in grading policies, for example—to insure that larger numbers of students will in fact be prepared to demonstrate the outcomes.
Brandt, R. (1994). “On Creating an Environment Where All Students Learn: A Conversation with Al Mamary.” Educational Leadership 51, 5: 18–23.
Spady, W. (1994). “Choosing Outcomes of Significance.” Educational Leadership 51, 5: 18–23.
Spady, W., and K. Marshall (1991). “Beyond Traditional Outcome-Based Education.” Educational Leadership 49, 2: 67–72.
Vickery, T. R. (1990). “ODDM: A Workable Model for Total School Improvement.” Educational Leadership 47, 7: 67–71.
If your school or district has already decided to take an outcome-based approach, no matter which model you choose, careful planning is essential to the process. The following section will help you examine your own existing system, determine where you are on the continuum, and lay the foundation for success. Charles Schwahn poses the essential questions and outlines the steps educators need to take in planning to implement outcomes-based education.
This Special Topic takes the form of a workbook excerpted and adapted from a four-part “handbook” Schwahn uses to train districts in Transformational Outcomes Based Education (TOBE). We believe that this section on establishing a purpose is straightforward and self-contained enough to be used independently by schools and districts wanting to begin the first planning phase.
This planning workbook is divided into the following subsections:
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