Discovering what schools really teach : designing improved coursework indicators

by Lorraine M. McDonnell, Leigh Burstein, Tor Ormseth, James S. Catterall, Douglas M. Moody

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Improving the information base on which decisions are made about educational policy and practice is not easy. Designing valid and useful measures takes time; collecting the necessary data imposes financial and other costs; and using indicator data in a constructive way requires considerable thought and planning. While these represent formidable challenges in any type of indicator development, they are particularly demanding in the case of coursework indicators because of the need for validation and deeper probes in the form of benchmark data. Despite these challenges, the price that states will pay for not collecting better data may be unacceptably high. Strategies for attaining performance goals cannot be implemented, classroom learning opportunities cannot be equalized, and policy effects cannot be effectively monitored if current information gaps persist. Indicator development will never have the visibility or political appeal of new policy initiatives aimed at improving schools. Data about what schools are teaching form the cornerstone of those initiatives, and the constituents of public schooling need valid information on coursework to continue the work of educational reform.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation joint report series. The joint report was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1988 to 1993 that included documents published jointly with other organizations, which transmitted major research findings and final research.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.