An Open Letter to the Developers of Equipped for the Future and to Practitioners Interested in Standards -Based Reform:

We are group of Rhode Island Practitioners who have recently participated in NCSALL- sponsored study circle aimed at learning about EFF and drawing connections between EFF and our own state standards development process. As part of our work, we studied and discussed several EFF related articles and publications, including NIFL's Equipped for the Future Content Standards: What Adults Need to Know and Be Able to Do in the 21st Century. We would like to call your attention to several points which surfaced during our discussions. Please feel free to post responses to our thoughts on this listserv.

There is much to admire in the EFF development effort, especially regarding the need for such an effort to remain learner centered. EFF's focus on Lifelong Learning, Decision-making and Interpersonal Skills reflects its efforts to give practice defined ways beyond traditional literacy standards and assessments. EFF recognizes that we as a field are accountable to our learners; learners have been central to each step of the development process. As practitioners who have studied and worked on the development of standards, we have learned that much in the standards reform movement speaks to our need to be accountable to other stakeholders. EFF's efforts to develop a useful assessment system which keeps what learners need to know and do at the center of the process is commendable.

Some of us who are working on developing standards for Rhode island have been especially grateful for two elements of EFF that have helped us directly in our own work. The recently developed performance framework, which compels us to look at performance in terms of factors such as frequency and degree of independence has helped us understand how to frame our own performance standards as we develop them. Similarly, the 16 standards, while themselves broad (see below), enable us to frame or organize our own, more specific content standards.

While we admire the effort and look forward to following the process of EFF's development, we share a great deal of concern over the practicality and applicability of EFF. We recognize that the process of developing performance measures and means of assessment are still being developed, and we are curious to see where the process goes. Still, right now it seems difficult to imagine using the standards effectively. In our study circle several concerns were raised and discussed, among them the ideas that concerns the standards are not specific enough to be easily brought into practice, that some standards would be very difficult to measure, and that some seem very difficult to apply at the basic level. Our principal concern in this area, though, is with the utility of the Content Standards publication. We feel it is wordy, visually confusing, and difficult to bring into practice.

It is especially important to practitioners that the gap between research and practice be bridged by research-based materials which are readily applicable to the classroom. The Content Standards book does not do this. As practitioners, we are very concerned with not having adequate time to learn how to use the book and how to bring the standards into practice. Our system does not support this kind of work. Most of us are part-time, not paid much for planning time and paid little or nothing for professional development time. While we understand that EFF is not to blame for this reality, we must emphasize that any set of tools for measuring standards must be easy to use. Most of us don't have the time to devote to understanding the whole EFF system. We might like to, but we can't. We recommend, therefore, that as the process of developing EFF continues, it be done with an eye on creating products that are readily adapted for classroom use.

Finally, we fear the possibility that the holistic, learner centered vision of EFF may be reduced to a set of overly general standards and yet another standardized test which doesn't relate to the experience of the learners. On pages 62 and 63 of the Content Standards book, much is made of the need to design "highly standardized tools" and "a new type of test". We fear that such an aim may reflect a narrowing of the principles EFF seems to embrace. We recognize that creating an efficient evaluation system/tool is a major challenge. As practitioners, we tend to view standardized tests as something we do not because it contributes to learning, but because it is required by someone other than the learner. While we are accustomed to working with standardized tests, and understand their purpose, we do not consider them to be especially learner-centered. We feel, as we have stated earlier, that EFF does much to maintain the broader support for holistic, content-based, learner centered instruction which engaging the learners in knowledge acquisition that builds on their strengths and has a clear connection to their lives. We only hope that as the development of a performance measurement system continues, this focus is not narrowed.

In closing, we would like to extend our thanks to the practitioners, researchers, and other who are part of the EFF development process for its extensive efforts to remain open to as many stakeholders as possible. We hope that the concerns raised in this letter, our past notes to your list, and our official study circle report will be of value.


NCSALL EFF/Rhode Island Standards Study Circle Participants

Study Circle Readings Bibliography

McGuire, Peggy, (2000) "A Performance Framework for Teaching and Learning with the Equipped for the Future (EFF) Content Standards (unabridged)", Adventures in Assessment

Pritchard, Ivor, (1996) "Judging Standards in Standards Based Reform", The Council for Basic Education,

Stein, Sondra, (1999)"Equipped for the Future: The Evolution of a Standards-Based Approach to System Reform", Focus on Basics, Sept. 1999

Stein, Sondra, (2000) Equipped for the Future Content Standards: What Adults Need to Know and Be Able to Do in the Twenty-First Century, The National Institute for Literacy

Sticht, Tom (1999) Research Note - Accountability in Adult Literacy Education II: There Are No Adult Literacy Levels to Be Directly Assessed, NLA Listserv

Stites, Regie, (1999) "A User's Guide to Standards-Based Educational Reform: From Theory to Practice", Focus on Basics Sept. 1999

Tucker, Marc Standards Criteria Framework adapted from ( ) "The State of Standards: Powerful Tool or Symbolic Gesture?,

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