In California, principals are feeling—and reacting to—the standards crunch. A recent survey shows what changes principals believe will help students make achievement gains.
The principal of an elementary school was waiting for the big vote. To adopt a new reform program for his school, 80 percent of the teaching staff needed to agree to the change. The principal displayed an overhead. "This is the bottom line," he said. "We spent more than $1 million in categorical funds in the past five years." He then held up another graph that showed student achievement during the same five-year period. The graph indicated that, if anything, student achievement had declined. "What we are doing is not working. Even if we don't adopt this program, we must do something."
In California, educators are pursuing school reform with a new urgency. For years, the state has published curricular frameworks for the major subject areas, but in the past three years, California has required students to take the SAT-9, a norm-referenced test designed to show the achievement level of a school's students. Students take the test in the spring; in the fall, an academic performance index lists the scores of each school for every district in the state. These scores indicate how a school's students performed on the test, how much the school improved from the previous year, and where it ranks on the dreaded comparison band. The schools that score well receive monetary incentives, community recognition, and state awards; the schools that do not score well await a less pleasant fate. Schools that score poorly face a potential loss of state funds, and districts with low-scoring schools could eventually be placed under state agency control. The public embarrassment and humiliation of not scoring well cuts deeply into the esteem of the communities.