For 25 years, IDRA has focused on the quality of education for all children. We have seen the negative effects of changing educational standards without providing appropriate instruction and resources. When Texas initiated mandated testing in the late 1970s, IDRA was concerned that schools would penalize children rather than find appropriate ways to teach them. The first test, Texas Assessment of Basic Skills (TABS), showed such results: poor and minority students scored significantly lower than White, middle-class children. There is nothing inherently inferior or wrong with any of the children – schools have not generally figured out how to teach them.
IDRA has continued to support high standards with appropriate support. Our battle has been on the side of curriculum and instruction modification, school organization and teacher preparation so that all children not only can meet but also can surpass the standards. We see the issue as a series of facts and challenges:
- Fact: Standards reflect a more comprehensive view of the student as a learner. Nationally, standards are being developed to correlate with the various dimensions of learning that prepare students to meaningfully participate in the 21st century. Challenge: Schools have neglected to create an informed constituency and community will for reform. We must create a greater awareness of the dimensions of learning as a base for standards. This challenges the deeply ingrained misconception that school learning is merely the acquisition and regurgitation of facts.
- Fact: Standards are discipline specific (language arts, mathematics, science and social studies) and generic (applicable to all disciplines). They are also developed to address attitudes, perceptions and habits of learning. Challenge: Schools must communicate this new emphasis to prepare students to assume responsibility for their learning and advancement to their families and the community at-large.
- Fact: Raising standards without concomitant support for teachers and students only increases the number of students failing and does not increase learning. Challenge: Schools must develop networks of support that advocate excellent education for all children and the necessary training and support needed by teachers to teach all children.
- Fact: Standards too often are developed with minimal input, if any, from parents, particularly minority parents. Challenge: We must create a dialogue between community and schools about learning, comprehension standards and the shared responsibilities for ensuring that children are prepared for the intellectual and economic demands of the 21st century.
- Fact: Standards that ignore or do not adequately address serving students whose primary language is not English, hinder the academic achievement of many children. Challenge: We must ensure that schools use the first language of the child to accelerate content learning and English as a second language approaches to accelerate English language acquisition.
IDRA’s Hispanic Families as Valued Partners: An Educator’s Guide, documents a belief system present in many schools that views families as deficits based on their assumptions of low-income and minority communities. Our research and experience indicates that most parents have a deep and almost desperate faith in the possibilities of education and the promises held out to children who receive an excellent education.
In its Community Leadership for Standards Based Reform Project (funded by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation), IDRA has supported a school district’s middle school reform efforts to be more effective through parental involvement and leadership. Through the National Coalition of Advocates for Students’ Mobilization for Equity project (funded by The Ford Foundation), IDRA engages the public and parents in achieving the best possible education for all students. Supporting students to achieve high standards is a major focus of the parent leaders.
IDRA will continue to find solutions to these and other challenges, solutions that promise to set a new standard for all children – a standard of vision, hope, equity and excellence. Comments and questions may be sent to IDRA via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©1998, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]