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"Creating Accountability in the Education Standards Movement,"

by DC VOICE (July/August 2001) is about accountability in the education movement.July/August 2001 issue of Poverty & Race

“The standards movement as it is now progressing at the national and state level is half the solution to the problem…To hold children responsible for outcomes without giving the same level of sophisticated attention to guaranteeing the standards of exposure [to learning] is an abandonment of responsibility of adults for the education and socialization of children.” (Dr. Asa Hilliard, III)

The Washington, DC Public Schools (DCPS) and many other school districts nationwide have adopted standards-based reform to improve student achievement. However, setting high standards is only half the solution to increasing student achievement in DC.

With support from PRRAC, DC VOICE (District Community Voices Organized & Informed for Change in Education) launched a project to engage parents, teachers and students in a community-based research study to document conditions and advocate for improvements. The project goals were: 1) engage parents, teachers, students and community members in dialogue about standards and the supports needed to achieve them (using Opportunity to Learn Standards - OTLs as a framework); 2) document parents’, teachers’, students’ and community members’ perceptions of the supports needed and those that are in place; and 3) utilize the final report as a tool for future organizing efforts within the Columbia Heights/Shaw neighborhood and citywide to strengthen public education in Washington, DC.

Our report, Half the Solution: The Supports DC Students Need to Meet High Academic Standards, documents community concerns about how schools and communities are failing to provide critical support for young people in the public schools. The other half is to provide in-school and out-of-school support for students to meet those standards.


Our methodology had two steps. The first was to conduct focus group discussions and interviews with parents, students and teachers associated with seventeen Columbia Heights/Shaw community-based organizations and schools. Columbia Heights/Shaw is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Washington, DC, serving as a microcosm of the city. DC VOICE chose to conduct the study in this neighborhood because of its diversity and also because of existing DC VOICE partnerships and activities with schools and community-based organizations in the area.

We asked focus group participants a series of questions designed to determine supports available to students, as measured by the Opportunity to Learn standards. OTLs describe the conditions needed to give students a fair chance to meet content and performance standards. OTLs grew out of concerns about issues confronting students in low-performing schools where students are held accountable for academic standards, but without the necessary supports. Specifically, focus group participants were asked questions based on the following Opportunity to Learn areas: school readiness, school environment, quality of instructional program, quality of teaching, quality of out-of-school supports, effective parent and community partnerships, and school financing. For example, parents and teachers were asked: “What partnerships exist between family, school and community organizations to further student achievement?”

Through our focus group discussions, we found that participants had many common concerns. There was agreement that some supports for meeting the standards exist. However, two main factors limit the ability of large numbers of students to meet them: 1) poor implementation of standards-based instruction in the classroom, and 2) no cohesive and comprehensive system of supports.

The second step of our project involved national and local research on standards-based reform. We drew from articles, books and reports about “best practices” related to standards-based reform. We learned that successful standards-based reform has some of the following characteristics: 1) reform initiatives involve parents, teachers and community members as partners; 2) teachers clearly communicate standards to set common goals, encouraging all students to perform at high levels; 3) standards-based assessment includes a variety of methods and should be aligned with the standards; and 4) Opportunity to Learn standards can provide a useful framework for measuring the supports in place to help students meet standards. We also studied the history and implementation of standards and standardized tests in DC public schools to determine how DCPS’ use of standards compares to national research on effective standards-based reform.


Eleven findings were based on our focus group discussions and have implications for DC schools and school-community collaboration.


Findings with primary implications for the school system:

• Parents and community members do not understand the standards and how they relate to student achievement:
• The Stanford Achievement Test, Edition 9 (the SAT-9, the District’s standardized test), undermines standards-based reform because it is not aligned with the DCPS’ Standards for Teaching and Learning.
• Teachers face challenges integrating standards into their classrooms because the District does not provide adequate training, curriculum support and appropriate assessments for standards-based teaching.
• Inadequate facilities and lack of basic resources, such as books, technology and equipment, obstruct efforts by students and teachers to meet the standards.
• Teachers report a lack of opportunity for quality professional development and productive interaction with other teachers and administrators.
• Parents are most satisfied with welcoming “open door” schools that respect parents and encourage their participation.

School-Community Collaboration:

Findings with implications for the school system and the community-at-large:

• Expanded programming by community-based organizations is needed to address students’ academic and social issues, especially for middle and high school students.
• Safety concerns are great among students, parents and teachers, and distract from learning.
• Increased collaboration between community-based organizations and the schools is needed to prevent isolated and duplicated academic and social services.
• Students need more adult support to overcome the obstacles they face in their home, community and school environments.
• Parents, teachers and students are committed to their local schools and are eager to participate in efforts to improve them.

The next phase of this project is to use our final report, Half the Solution: The Supports DC Students Need to Meet High Academic Standards, and subsequent documents to galvanize Washington, DC community members to hold the schools and the communities accountable for improving the supports in place for students to be successful. During March, April and May, we convened several community dialogues to engage community members in a process of developing recommendations for action based on the findings of the report. We have conducted a “train the trainer” session with individuals from community-based organizations, parents and school staff interested in facilitating their own dialogues about the supports needed for students to be successful. We plan to use the feedback from these dialogues to encourage people to take action themselves, as well as develop recommendations for what others can do to strengthen public education in Washington, DC.

DC VOICE is a collaborative of education activists committed to ensuring every child in Washington, DC a high- quality public education. We believe that a key to achieving a high- quality education for all children in the District is an engaged and informed public. DC VOICE began in the Spring of 1998 when a group of teachers, parents and other community members met to explore strategies to strengthen the public voice in educational reform. The group received a Ford Foundation grant to establish an education reform collaborative and provide opportunities to learn and work together. For a full copy of our report, “Half the Solution: The Supports DC Students Need to Meet High Academic Standards,” or for more information, contact: DC VOICE, PO Box 73055, Wash., DC 20056, 202/986-8535, Fax 202/

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