What to Look for In Your State’s Reform Plan

State education department efforts to draft new standards and assessment plans vary widely, influenced by a variety of pressure groups. To help sort through the important differences among plans, the following questions may prove useful.


  • Will the state test every student for comparison and selection purposes? Or will it sample random students using matrix sampling methods for the purpose of assessing school and district programs?
  • Will the state use assessment results to reward and punish schools and teachers financially? Or will it use data to identify where schools need extra help?
  • Has the education department authored statewide curriculum frameworks describing what students should know and be able to do? Has it called on teachers to develop and share those standards? Through what avenues of influence are teachers explicitly invited to share in the discussion?
  • Will the state rely on one or two tests with which to measure student performance? Or will it provide banks of alternative assessment practices and instruments for schools to use?
  • Do state guidelines echo subject-area-based curriculum standards developed by professional disciplinary organizations? Or do they cross disciplinary lines to describe broader thinking skills and performance outcomes that can be demonstrated in a variety of areas?
  • Does the state dictate the curriculum and assessment materials to which teachers must shape their classroom practice? Or does its plan include time, money, and resources to help teachers renew their practice and generate their own new instruction and assessment methods?
  • Is the rating system intended to sort and select students against a high standard of performance, with some failing in the inevitable bell curve? Or are all students expected to meet the goal, with the system taking responsibility for shaping strategies to get them there?