Date: Sept. 14, 1999
Contacts: Vanee Vines, Media Relations Associate
Megan O'Neill, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <>

Publication Announcement

Federal Title I Program Needs Stronger Link
Between Testing and Learning

When Congress retooled the Title I education program in 1994, the goal was to raise academic achievement among disadvantaged students by holding them to the same high standards set for all schoolchildren. Since then, many states have adopted higher standards, developed tests to measure student performance against those standards, and imposed penalties against schools and districts that consistently have failed to reach achievement goals. But few have paid sufficient attention to boosting the ability of teachers and administrators to improve instruction, says a new report from the National Research Council of the National Academies.

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is the federal government's largest K-12 program aimed at helping economically disadvantaged students by providing extra funds to their schools. The law is scheduled for reauthorization this year.

"When Title I was revamped five years ago, the thinking was that standards-based reform would raise student achievement, but as it has played out, the missing link has been recognition of the clear connections between standards-based reform, learning, and teaching," said Richard F. Elmore, chair of the committee that wrote the report and a professor at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Mass. "Significant achievement gains are unlikely without efforts to help teachers and administrators enrich instruction."

The report is a practical guide to help states and school districts develop assessment and accountability plans called for in the 1994 legislation, with an eye toward extending the overall depth of student learning and shrinking the achievement gap between low-income Title I students and their peers from middle-income families. Economically disadvantaged students in particular often lack the language skills and strong parental encouragement that foster academic achievement, making the rigor of their schooling all the more important.

The guidelines, which include examples of successful initiatives from states across the country, do not use a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, they are offered as yardsticks against which states and districts can measure their own decisions, the report says. The committee rejected the notion of the "one best system" because it simply does not exist, given the diversity of local needs and concerns.

Even so, an effective education-improvement system must be integrated at the school, district, and state levels, and emphasize both teaching and learning. It also should closely monitor the quality of instruction, set high standards for all students, and rely on a range of testing strategies, the report says. In addition, such a system should hold everyone accountable for doing their part to improve achievement – from teachers and administrators to education policy-makers.

What teachers do in the classroom is critical to the success of any education-improvement system, the committee said. However, while many reform efforts have emphasized what students should know and be able to do, most plans have been silent on the question of essential skills that teachers must have to help students meet high standards.

The report urges school-based and district-level administrators to carefully monitor teachers' instructional practices to determine whether students have been exposed to challenging lessons that would help them excel. Schools also should use information gathered from classroom observations to demand instructional support from district offices, such as professional-development opportunities, if necessary.

But student-performance standards must be at the heart of an improvement system, the committee noted, and they should be high for all schoolchildren, regardless of their socioeconomic background. Moreover, standards must spell out what students should know in core academic subjects and indicate performance levels that students are expected to reach. Educators should use a range of testing strategies to evaluate students' mastery of academic material as well as their ability to apply classroom lessons to solve everyday problems.

Ultimately, teachers, administrators, and policy-makers should be more individually and collectively accountable for their roles in helping all students reach high standards, the report says. However, reform efforts should emphasize assistance, turning to sanctions such as state takeovers only after a school has experienced a period of steady decline in student achievement. And because the lowest-performing schools would benefit most from additional state and district resources, they should be first to receive extra support. States and districts also should take into account such factors as a school's overall quality of instruction when creating annual targets for student-achievement gains.

The study was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Spencer Foundation, William T. Grant Foundation, and U.S. Department of Education. A committee roster follows. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit organization that provides advice on science and technology under a congressional charter.

Read the full text of Testing, Teaching, and Learning: A Guide for States and School Districts for free on the Web, as well as more than 1,800 other publications from the National Academies. Printed copies are available for purchase from the National Academy Press Web site or at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).

Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Division on Education, Labor, and Human Performance

Committee on Title 1 Testing and Assessment
Richard F. Elmore (chair)
Professor of Education and Chair
Department of Administration, Planning, and Social Policy
Graduate School of Education
Harvard University
Cambridge, Mass.

Eva L. Baker
Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing
University of California
Los Angeles

Ruben Carriedo
Former Assistant Superintendent
Division of Planning, Assessment, and Accountability
San Diego Unified School District
San Diego

Ursula Casanova
Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
College of Education
Arizona State University

Roberta J. Flexer
Associate Professor of Mathematics Education
Department of Education
University of Colorado

Ellen C. Guiney
Executive Director
Boston Plan for Excellence in Public Schools

Kati P. Haycock
The Education Trust
Washington, D.C.

Joseph F. Johnson Jr.
Director, Collaborative for School Improvement
Charles A. Dana Center
University of Texas

Sharon Lynn Kagan
Senior Associate
Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy
Yale University
New Haven, Conn.

Fayneese Miller
Associate Professor of Education and Director
Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America
Brown University
Providence, R.I.

Jessie Montano
Assistant Commissioner
Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning
St. Paul

P. David Pearson
John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor of Education
College of Education
Michigan State University
East Lansing

Stephen W. Raudenbush
Professor of Research Design and Statistics
School of Education
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor

Lauren B. Resnick
Professor of Psychology and Director
Learning Research and Development Center
University of Pittsburgh

Warren Simmons
Annenberg Institute
Brown University
Providence, R.I.

Charlene G. Tucker
High School Assessment Unit
Connecticut State Department of Education


Robert Rothman
Study Director