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It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with [[::Standards-based education reform|Standards-based education reform]]. (Discuss)

Outcome-based education (OBE) is an education reform model largely aimed primary and secondary education ("K-12" in the United States and Australia) which is intended to objectively measure student performance. Measurement may be used to determine whether or not the education system is performing adequately, and in some cases whether or not students will be certified as educated by the system. It is also known as Standards-based education reform, Mastery Education, systemic education restructuring, Performance Based Education, High Performance Learning, Total Quality Management, Transformational Education, Competency-Based Education, and Break-the-Mold Schools.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Most local schools in the United States, state and federal education agencies are currently implementing a heavily-modified form of outcomes- or standards-based education reform, though most citizens are unaware of the implications of this design compared to the education most parents received, and the small but persistent protest movement against implementation of this system since its inception in the late 1970s.


Outcomes-based education is based on concepts from the Total Quality Management movement in business. It is believed that by first deciding where they are and then where they want to be, academic goals can be reached for all students. OBE promotes high expectations, and students demonstrate their knowledge rather than simply proving they have sat in seats for 12 years, but opponents say it focuses too much on attitudes rather than academic content.[1]

What is OBE?

OBE (now widely understood as standards-based education) is definition of education that shifts from the traditional focus on what students should be taught (content) and how much time they should be taught it for, to a focus on setting universal standards of what students are expected to demonstrate they "know and are able to do". The traditional model that some students would be tracked for success while most others would be tracked elsewhere is rejected in favor of continuous improvement, and success "for all" students, a "shift in paradigm" as radical as the comparison between free-market governments, and those that promise economic success for all and an end to privileged classes.

All definitions and names for standards based reforms share an emphasis on setting clear (though more difficult in practice than theory) higher standards, and observable, measurable outcomes. Crucial is the belief that all students can learn, which means students of all abilities, all social racial and ethnic groups, and genders, sometimes disabilities as well. (quote from McNeir 1993 - which can be found at [14]). "Standards" as they are now called are the key to curriculum frameworks of nearly every state and school district in the United States. Even opponents of reform or standards-based mathematics advocate standards, though they reflect the goals of traditional education rather than the newest reforms.

By contrast, the goal of traditional education was to transmit the knowledge and skills of the old generation to the new, and provide students with an environment to learn.[2]. Outcomes, equal, high or otherwise, were neither required, nor promised. It was not required that every student leave prepared for college, or that every student receive an education that prepares them for a job. Most traditional education in the 20th century prepared different students for different tracks, typically vocational, academic, or arts. Most traditional comprehensive school education different kinds of students, and typically students from high income groups achieved at higher levels that those from communities with less economic advantages or education, which brought charges of discrimination and limiting opportunities for minorities and women.

Key Features

The key features which may be used to judge if a system has implemented an outcomes-based education system are:

  • Creation of  Standards or Curriculum framework at grades 4, 7 and 10.
  • A standards-based assessment with a holistic grading system based on meeting one, high standard to measure achievement of those Standards. Performance standards are typically set based on the performance of the top 20 per cent of students in the first year of implementation.
  • A certificate, either a high school diploma or Certificate of Initial Mastery to be granted upon achievement of those standards at the 10th grade, with high stakes consequences for failure.
  • A commitment that all students of all groups will reach the same standards by a certain date.
  • A commitment to not only provide an opportunity of education, but to require and guarantee learning outcomes, raising standards higher than previous expectations, and increasing test scores. The curriculum will be revamped according to principles of progressive education, sometimes in opposition to, or instead might be based on traditional education with a system of incentives and punishments.

Differences with Traditional education grading methods

In a traditional education system and economy, students are given grades and rankings compared to each other. Curriculum standards and expectations of performance are based on what has been traditionally taught, and students are expected to perform at a wide range of abilities, with the highest performing students given the highest grades and test scores. The lowest performing students being allowed to pass and having a right to an education regardless of performance level. Schools are structured in a conventional manner rather than being split up into small schools, and scheduled with roughly 1 hour periods rather than block scheduling, usually organized around distinct classes such as social studies, English, or science rather than integrated. Standardized tests use inexpensive, multiple choice computer-scored questions with single correct answers to quickly rank students on ability, which can be compared with national norms, and do not give criterion-based judgements as to whether students have met one high standard of what every student is expected to know and do. Grade level expectations are set based on the median student, a level at which 50 percent of students score better or worse. By this definition, in a normal population half of students are expected to perform above or below grade level no matter how effective or ineffective the system is.

Education reform

Most education reform models in the United States implemented since the 1990s are similar to a plan proposed by Marc Tucker's NCEE, outlined in a letter to Hillary Rodham Clinton, though the plan would be adopted by states rather than the president. Such a plan is still being proposed by education leaders such as Tucker in the 2000s to end high school as we know it by the 10th grade. Rather than be given letter grades, or expecting that some students would perform at low levels, a performance-based system would insure that ALL children performed at world class levels (a term which is still largely undefined, but most assessments are initially set to fail all but the top 20 per cent of students who are typically 1 or 2 years ahead of most students), with students graded according to whether they fell short of, met, or exceeded one high standard. Rankings, and the bell curve would be eliminated from assessments, as students are rated "against the mountain rather than against each other". Students would no longer be given a social promotion by age rather than ability. Students would be given credit for assessed performance, rather than seat time.


The emphasis would be on measured outcomes rather than inputs of curriculum covered. Consistent with the latest education research, lecturing would be replaced by teachers as guides to help students discover and construct their own knowledge. Curricula would be integrated into "real life" contexts and project-based learning, and workplace-based learning similar to apprenticeship systems abroad. Facts and methods which are made obsolete by calculators and the internet would be replaced by higher order thinking skills and problem solving using the latest in computer networking technology. Education would no longer be based on merely re-teaching an obsolete curriculum. Education would focus on the success of ALL students as a transforming force which would advance cultural, language, racial and sexual minorities and women, and protect the environment. Process skills would take precedent over fact- and method-based "content". The new 3 R's as declared by leaders in the movement such as Terry Bergeson would be Relating, Representing and Reasoning, rather than emphasis on mere low-level skills such as arithmetic, reading and writing.

Since a curve might require giving out low passing Ds to the lowest 25 percent and fail the lowest 5 percent, such a system would appear to make it possible for all students to succeed, However, in practice, such tests typically given out FAILING "does not meet standard" levels to as many as 80 per cent of students, and much higher levels of minorities. Since performance standards and grading rubrics are not based on traditional knowledge and skills but "higher order thinking skills" and "problem solving", and sometimes even attitudes, significant numbers of high-performing students may also fail these assessments.

Redefining "standards"

Many states contracted with the NCEE to create legislation which would require the creation of a curriculum framework or standards, a standards-based assessment to assess attainment of those standards, and a Certificate of Initial Mastery, to be obtained by age 16 or the 10th grade. These frameworks were often written with the intention of excluding traditional standards. Standards-based mathematics are based on the controversial NCTM design which did not require, or even discouraged instruction of elementary arithmetic which is felt to be too difficult for some students in the age of calculators, instead using class time and homework to write about one's favorite number or color in 10,000 charts with colored pencils. Advanced topics such as algebra and statistics which are unfamiliar to most adults are introduced in elementary school to "raise standards". The whole language movement was largely devoid of the mechanics of phonics and grammar, while exposing students to literature and higher-order thinking concepts such as "how do you feel" rather than questions with one correct answer such as "what did he do". Simple basal readers are replaced by "authentic literature" with reading complexity far beyond traditional reading grade levels. A paper written at a 2nd grade level which contained an original thought "My mother showed integrity" might be rated higher than a paper written at a college level, but which only restated the facts. Inquiry-based science replaces instruction with facts with teaching, and assessing students as early as the fourth or fifth grades how to design and interpret experiments, a skill traditionally not even taught at the high school level, where students were merely expected to participate in, not design experiments. Science assessments such as WASL contain very little in the way of items that require knowledge of scientific facts.

Some standards widely used in the standards movement:

  • NCTM Standards Based Mathematics
  • National Science Education Standards
  • Whole Language

Standards based education reform

Outcome-based methods have been adopted in significant ways in the United States, Australia, and South Africa. Standards-based education is the derived from, but a less radical form of restructuring, which typically is recognized by creation of a curriculum framework, the use of an assessment to gauge whether a student falls short of, meets or exceeds the standard rather than a rank order or letter grade, linking awarding the diploma to passing such an assessment, and the (some say unrealistic) belief that ALL children will excel or succeed, in all income, gender, language, ethnic, disability and religious groups, in all subjects. This will occur only if enough money is invested into the education of our children to ensure that every student can pass a test which initially is calibrated to fail a majority of students. Enough incentives and punishments are put into place so that students are prepared and motivated to pass this test by some date set in the future by education officials and legislators, under the assumption that a simple failure in the system can completely explain all academic gaps and personal failure.

Motivations behind the movement include the general attempt to improve education for personal and societal economic success. "No Child Left Behind" is one example of an attempt at improving the achievement of underprivileged demographic groups. Legislators call for the need for "meaningful" certifications such as diplomas which can be evaluated by colleges and employers. Expensive public relations campaigns with radio advertising and front page news stories speak of "raising the bar", that "children will meet higher expectations", and an end to "high school graduates who can't read their own diploma", inviting the public for input on how they can help "transform" public education, rather than debating the merits of such reform.

Criticism of OBE

High stakes failure

It is believed that many students fail simply because they don't have sufficient incentive to succeed, so it is necessary to increase the consequence of failure beyond merely getting a low grade. Those who passed would be eligible to complete two more years of high school with career training or college preparation, those who did not would be excluded from high paying jobs with wages that could support a family. However, in states such as Oregon, efforts to completely exclude students who failed from all employment were opposed. Every state which adopted this plan has since abandoned, renamed or discarded the CIM, but most states have created curriculum standards, assessments and performance standards. In its place, the federal government directed states to create assessments, which were not to be used as exit exams before the 2000s. But passing these exams are now required for more than half of all US students to get a high school diploma, though the trend has is now ebbing as no more states are adopting this approach, and many are contemplating public sentiment to remove this requirement.

Opposition to testing

Major criticisms include that standardized tests do not adequately measure what children are supposed to be learning, and that high-stakes tests are less desirable than more continuous assessment (like conventional grades). It is also thought that the only way to define "excellence" as achievable by all is to dumb-down the definition of excellence to a level achievable by even the weakest students. Thus, your student may pass the state test, but did your student achieve a high standard if 90% of students also passed and scored higher?

Beliefs of the Standards Based Education Movement

The Standards based education movement rejects the status quo of too many students dropping out of high school, too many students graduating who cannot read their own diplomas, and too many subgroups graduating lagging in mathematics or science. The standards movement rejects tracking, or the belief, unsupported by research that some students should be expected to perform better than others and that only a few can succeed and learn at the highest levels. The principles of continuous improvement are applied to new beliefs and a rethinking that all gaps between social groups can and must be erased, and that the opportunities that were previously afforded to those at the top of a bell curve are opened up to the diversity of all students, in a democratic vision, sometimes connected to social justice. [3]

The movement presents the following positions and viewpoints on OBE:

  • All students should leave high school prepared for college, without remedial courses. [4]
  • All students, including those who live in poverty will meet district, state, and national standards. [5]
  • All students will succeed in rigorous academic coursework that will prepare them for post-secondary education and training. [6]
  • Staff will maintain high expectations and standards, believing all students will succeed[7][8]
  • All students will succeed if kept to high expectations.[9]
  • District Mission Statement: All students will succeed when we have high academic standards. and high expectations, assessed at set intervals for continuous improvement.[10]
  • "We haven't taught many of them even up to middle school standards. It only punishes them more to give them an empty piece of paper we call a diploma when their high school experience hasn't prepared for any of the skills they'll need after high school. We give them a diploma that is a doorway to a street corner or unemployment line. (Russlynn Ali of Education Trust-West) [11]
  • Students should be measured against a fixed yardstick, or "against the mountain" rather than against other students.
  • All students should read at grade level.
  • We need higher world class standards for the 21st century. (though no state has yet found a precise definition of the term "world-class standards")
  • Students should demonstrate that they have met standards, not just put in seat time to advance to the next level.[12]

Critics however question whether such goals are realistic or attainable, or that success can only be framed in terms of high test scores and high incomes. It was progressives who first proposed broadening high school to include a place for those whose primary goal was not college preparation. The emphasis on higher standards and algebra and calculus for all would appear to devalue vocational training or the value of those who do not get high test scores. A promise that all will get world class diplomas becomes a promise that massive numbers will fail to get a diploma if they do not pass the new tests.

Failure will be eradicated by rejecting the Bell Curve and rank ordering which is seen as a result of a defective curriculum simply by educating all to one high standard. In essence, OBE seeks to reject a rank-ordered definition of success by essentially promising that all students will perform as well as the students on the high end of the bell curve, and no students will perform at the low end by setting one "standard" that all students will be required to meet, an assumption that conflicts data on most tests that even criterion-referenced tests produce a bell curve distribution with some students scoring higher than others. In practice OBE often results in large increases in spending. Homework and project workloads also increase with unrealistically high academic expectations as elementary school students tackle mean, median and mode and high school students in Bellevue, Washington may soon be expected to pass AP college-level tests in some districts just to get a high school diploma. Rather than uniformly high grades and success, low grades become common with massive failure rates among students previously accustomed to getting Bs and As, although administrators will call such problems "a failure in communications", "to be expected", a "work in progress" and to "stay the course".

One successful concerted attack on its implementation can be exemplified by Peg Luksik's campaign in Pennsylvania "that included hundreds of town meetings and a widely distributed videotape entitled Who Controls Our Children (McCarthy, 1995). The campaign was very successful at convincing a large number of people that OBE was part of a federal program that invaded their children's privacy, "stressing values over academic content, and holding students accountable for goals that are so vague and fuzzy they can't be assessed at all"[13]

Like many comprehensive educational philosophies, Outcomes Based Education is controversial. It has been accused by some of "dumbing down" education, since it recognises achievement at different levels, and does away with the concept of 'passing' or 'failing', and so even those who would not achieve a passing grade in a more traditional approach are awarded a level of achievement. Conversely, even high achieving students can fail, as a study showed that nearly a quarter of students who were recommended to take college level courses in high school were found to fail the outcomes-based WASL high school graduation standards-based assessment, a level of failure which had been set as a goal for the 'general population. Even high achieving Asians, as well as low income Hispanic immigrant students can also be blocked from a college education if they fail the verbal section of a graudation exam. When "D" grade for mimimal effort is replaced a detailed 4 page "rubric", even a complete video book review on DVD with a chapter index with a complete plot can be given sufficiently low points to get an "F"[14]. It is also controversial amongst teachers, some of whom can find their marking workload more than doubled when changing to an outcomes based approach.


One of the problems of OBE for students wishing to attend university is that it does not lend itself well to forming a competitive Tertiary Entrance Rank (TER).[How to reference and link to summary or text] The suggested model for mapping levels to a TER has been attacked because it results in a score with more significant digits than the measures from which it is derived and so is charged with being mathematically unsound.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

William Spady promoted the OBE method as a way of getting beyond 'meaningless' percentages and marks, aiming for education for life beyond school, giving children and young adults a broader and more transformative education. Arguably inelegant implementation makes the future of OBE unclear, and at odds with the Australian Government in Canberra.

Criticism of OBE in Western Australia

The current OBE controversy in Western Australia relates specifically to the introduction of OBE in upper school (year 11 and 12) classes. Many Western Australian schools have been using some form of OBE for K-10 students for several years. (OBE is only one part of the current changes to upper school education currently being implemented. Other aspects of the new courses of study that form the upper school review have received little public attention.)

As part of the debate over further introduction of OBE into the teaching practice of Western Australia, various groups of concerned citizens and those in the teaching profession formed various single issue lobby and action groups to progress their viewpoints. One such group was People Lobbying Against Teaching Outcomes formed by Greg Williams. The core view of this group was their disagreement with the former Western Australian Minister for Education (Ljiljanna Ravlich) in respect to her commitment of implementing OBE. Another such group was Parents Against Outcomes Education, who took the position that the implementation of OBE would pose significant problems and potentially lead to the decreased knowledge and performance of school students.

In January 2007, the Western Australian Government abandoned most of its Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) system in response to massive opposition from teachers and parents in the previous.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Though the government had refused to back down in 2006, the Education Minister would be allow year 11 and 12 students to be graded traditionally than using outcomes-based levels and bands, even as the United States continues to change over to a somewhat similar standards-based system. [15]

United States

In the early 1990s, several standards-based reform measures were passed in various states, creating the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (1991), Washington Assessment of Student Learning (1993), the CLAS in California (1993), and the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (1993).

In 1994, Congress passed the Goals 2000 act.

The best known and most far-reaching standards-based education law in the U.S. is the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated certain measurements for all states that receive federal education funds. (All states receive federal education money; as of 2006, only the state of Utah has been threatened with termination due to non-compliance with NCLB.) States are free to set their own standards, but the federal law mandates measurement of certain demographic subgroups (including racial minorities, low-income students, and special education students) in math and reading. Various consequences for schools that do not make "adequate yearly progress" and relating to school choice (not necessarily including private schools) are included in the law.

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In most US states, the OBE process was designed by the blueprint "America's Choice: High Skills or Low Wages" of the NCEE which is headed by Marc Tucker. OBE is said to be patterned after many of the idea of TQM. If a school is like a factory, then producing high quality students should be like quality control. If outcomes are specified and measured, then processes of continual improvement should make it as easy to produce defect-free students as chocolate chip cookies. All we have to do is start with a test with a high failure rate, and then gradually increase pass rate. A state would produce outcomes, or "standards" to be covered at grades 4, 7, and 10, and a Performance Based Assessment aligned to the curriculum standards would be produced.

At present, over half of US high school students will be required by law to pass a high stakes test to get a high school diploma, though in some states fewer than half of students and one-quarter of ethnic minorities have met these standards.[16]

Other components of standards-based education reform

  • Standards-based mathematics De-emphasizes or sometimes omits entirely instruction of traditional pencil and paper computation methods, substituting investigations, writing and inventing one's own computation methods. Popular worldwide, formally adopted by most US States and school districts and Australian education authorities, though sometimes opposed by proponents of traditional mathematics.
  • Standards based assessment Assessments use open response to assess the new standards rather than multiple choices of only one correct answer. Students are graded against a standard that all must meet rather than rank ordered onto a bell curve. In many states, this is also a high-stakes high school graduation examination.
  • Constructivism Students follow Piaget's method of constructing their own knowledge. The teacher is guide or facilitator rather than a lecturer.
  • Block scheduling Structuring classes around periods of time other than an hour.[17]
  • Interdisciplinary curricula that integrate subjects such as language arts and history.
  • Student inquiry and project-based learning with real-world applications in mathematics or science.
  • Emphasis on parental involvement and increased homework.
  • Heavy use of public relations, corporate support, and grants / contracts from federal and state education agencies, and the National Science Foundation.
  • Consensus based decision making to push forward and establish standards.
  • Curriculum frameworks which put grade level content and performance standards into documents.
  • School to work initiatives to require all students to spend school time linking academics to a career or job, which may be linked to human resource requirements of local employers, mirroring apprenticeship programs abroad.
  • Continuous improvement Each new class is expected to perform at a higher level than the previous year. If the class does not show improvement, even if it is the highest in the city, it can be penalized for not meeting goals. This concept is somewhat similar to rising production quotas which are common to planned economies.

Critics of any of these initiatives often are critical of the others as a group, instead preferring the methods and standards of traditional education

Different approaches to grading and reporting

An important by-product of this approach is that students should be assessed against external objectives, NOT in comparison to their peers - grading on a curve is NEVER okay in OBE or standards-based education, and there has been a proliferation of different grading systems that have, in many places, replaced the traditional A, B, C, D, F system.

In one approach, a student is awarded levels instead of grades. From kindergarten to year 12, the student will receive either a Foundational level (which is pre-institutional) or be evidenced at levels 1 through to 8. A student cannot 'fail', he or she will just simply not achieve in the level many of her or his peers are achieving. This acknowledges differential growth at different stages, and focuses the teacher on the needs of the students.

In this approach, students and their parents are better able to track progress from year to year, since the levels are based on criteria that remain constant for a student's whole time at school. However, this is seen by some as a flaw in the system as it is normal for some students to stay on the same level for some outcomes for several years, especially in primary school.

One problem is that committees typically set very high standards without regard to how many students achieve that level. For example, the North Carolina Writing Project gives out grades from 1 to 4. Most are grade 2 or 3, but less than 1 percent of students got a "4" in any year in any grade level, a level that is comparable to or smaller than the percentage of student who get SAT scores high enough to be admitted into a college as selective as Harvard University or MIT. The goal of Washington State is to have 80 percent of students pass the WASL test, however in its first year 1997, not even the highest scoring elementary schools were at this level. Even among students who applied to take Running Start college level courses in high school, it was found that fewer than 80 percent had passed all of their WASL tests. Some items on the 1997 WASL mathematics test that had been chosen by the benchmarking committee were later found to greatly exceed developmental standards for fourth graders, sometimes even confounding college engineering majors.


Generally, systems that are using OBE or standards-based reporting systems track and report not just a grade or "level" for a subject, but progress and/or status indicators for several more specific outcomes within that subject. For example, rather than just getting a C for mathematics, a student might receive level 4 for number sense, level 5 for algebraic concepts, level 3 for measurement skills, etc.

Information-rich reports

Reports presented in levels can be confusing for some parents who are left wondering whether their son's or daughter's level 4 is a good result for a year 9 student or not. Some schools address this by also giving an indication of what range of levels they are expecting students in a year group to achieve. Even with this, however, outcomes based reporting is information rich, and so can be rather more challenging to understand than a single grade for each of half a dozen subjects. Schools and systems implementing such reporting have found it especially difficult to explain and make useful for what sociologist James Ogbu has called "beer mug parents" (parents who just want the school to tell them "how full their student is" rather than trying to engage them in supporting the daily learning process).

Recognition of individual achievement

One of the implications of OBE is that teachers are prompted to think about the individual needs of all students and give opportunities for them to achieve at a variety of levels. Thus, in theory, weaker students are given work within their grasp and exceptionally strong students are extended. This is not always the case, as sometimes a class will work at the level of the lower students without allowing more advanced students to have any extension. This means that when a level is converted to a grade (possibly through Government pressure), a high achieving student may receive a C grade. Of course, adjusting to students' ability is something that good teachers have always done; OBE simply makes the approach explicit and reflects the approach in marking and reporting.

OBE Diplomas

see main article Certificate of Initial Mastery

A student who passed the 10th grade test would get a Certificate of Initial Mastery. Some critics argue that the assessment does not measure knowledge as their parents would understand it, but instead measure the degree that controversial new teaching methods and values have been implemented. The student would then be allowed to continue 2 more years of career based training. A national standards board would be created which would create similar tests for all 8 career fields which would bar the employment of those who were not officially trained or certificated.

The CIM has been abandoned by almost every state, but in its place, states effectively replaced the diploma with CIM by requiring passing the same 10th high school graduation examination. Oregon had proposed a CAM for "advanced mastery" at the 12th grade.

The CIM concept was patterned after nations like Germany where most students end their formal education after grade 10, and this is why states require a 10 grade test to exit grade 12. These tests were deliberately calibrated to fail as many as 70 percent of students in the first year of testing. California's CLAS was later revealed to not have allowed ANY high scores the first year in math, and it was common for states to tell their graders to give very low grades the first year. But they always rise at a rate of 5 or more points per year as teachers include test problems in their lessons, the difficulty level of the test, and passing scores are adjusted, even though standardized tests and the NAEP typically show little or no improvement. Massachusetts is given as an example of the success of OBE because of a high test passing rate. However, critics say that this because many students have been forced out by "standards", and the failure rate of minority groups continues to be several times the majority rate.

Positives of OBE

The neutrality of this section is disputed.

((accuracy)) Its proponents view OBE as a liberating and rightful replacement for the ills of traditional education based on mastering and memorizing content, ranking by ability, getting credit for mere seat time, and serving as an umbrella for a wide variety of education reforms, from constructivist math to whole language. Liberal politicians often support OBE because of its vision of high standards for all groups and the promise that all students will be in the 80th percentile. Conservatives like the idea of measuring outputs rather than input money spent, and insisting that student demonstrate learning rather than just showing up. Large corporations such as Boeing, IBM and Nintendo often participate in the process, and pay for expensive public relations campaigns because they want a capable workforce.

OBE as Snake Oil

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The other view is that OBE was really driven by the education reform industry, such as the NCEE, which would visit districts and legislators, and use processes such as the Delphi technique on isolated business, parent and education leaders to get their help in implementing OBE instead of considering whether OBE was a good idea in the first place. The NCEE was known to have worked with states and districts which covered as many as half of the public school students in the nation, including Washington, Vermont, and Texas, and to have essentially written the initial legislation which created and authorized spending for OBE testing and standards, and the Certificate of Initial Mastery which would be awarded upon passing a test which demonstrated achieving the learning "outcomes". Very few citizens outside the small education reform opposition movement know of the central role played by the NCEE in the mass adoption of tying graduation to passing standards-based assessments such as WASL.

All Will Succeed = All Will Work Really Hard For Failing Grades

Instead of a paradise where every one succeeded regardless of ability, the bar of "what every child must know and be able to do" has often been raised so that even high performing students get low grades. At Skyline High School in Issaquah, Washington, there were TV news stories of how their campuses felt like academic labor camps, and parents questioned why their high school students were asked to do college level work. The problem with the mantra "all will succeed" tends to be implemented as "all students must perform as well as the successful top 10 or 20 percent", and success is defined strictly as getting a high test score and taking the highest math and English classes. It might be argued that the most successful character on Gilligan's Island is Gilligan who has the best character, but in all probability the lowest test score skills of anyone in his community.

Passing standard changes from a D grade to tasks far more complex than simply getting a 90% pass rate on a multiple choice test of facts that were taught, which was once the requirement for an A grade. Instead of the promise of making it easier for "D" students to get an "A", many "A" students will receive grades from C to F (see projects below).

Washington State's superintendent Terry Bergeson pledged that all students would receive a world class standards diploma. Yet half of all students and three-quarters of minority students in 2006 were on track to be denied diplomas because of Bergeson's decision to help struggling students by requiring all students to pass the controversial WASL standards based assessment. The reality is that new standards are much more difficult rather than making it easier for struggling students to succeed.

In the world of educational triage, there are many students who are denied the help they need because they are deemed beyond help, regardless of their actual abibities and desire to learn.

Massive Failure in Littleton Colorado

The paper "Government Nannies: The cradle-to-grave agenda of Goals 2000 & Outcome Based Education" by Cathy Duffy (1995) notes losses of students and staff due to outcome-based education. In one school, there were 36 demonstrations required for graduation, but "high-school classes and grades carried no weight". Only 145 of 533 students enrolled completed algebra. Demonstrating knowledge of algebra was not a graduation requirement.

It is a universal belief that merely by setting standards that "all will succeed". In a standards based system, this means all students of all demographic groups will pass all standards based assessments. However, no OBE demonstration in a diverse high school has ever produced a 100 percent graduation rate will every student of every ethnic, economic, and special education status being qualified for every job and every college. Research into the achievement gap show that every demographic group has achieved different scores on every set of published test results, whether traditional multiple choice or the most advance standards based assessments, so the optimistic belief in universal success does not appear to be based on any research results, but extrapolation of increasing test scores. Advocates of standards maintain that is due to ineffective implementation and incomplete communications with the community rather than any inherent problems with the vision of OBE.

In "Assessment of Student Performance: Studies of Education Reform" by the U.S. Department of Education, it is noted that "Littleton, Colorado, had to rescind its reforms due to community opposition. The community was not kept well informed, and the reforms were enacted too swiftly. In the end, community members felt that vague, nonacademic outcomes were replacing content, and that technically unsound assessments would be used to determine something as important as high school graduation".


Instead of study involving reading, drill, and testing of facts, very large and time-consuming projects involving music, arts/crafts, or even electronics, are performed by students under OBE. For example, a project could include 3 models of 20s-30s cars, 6 pictures, 6 write-ups on each car, plus an oral presentation for 20th century history, or producing and performing a play or video. Nevertheless, while such projects can be an opportunity for those with creative talents to succeed, seemingly simple 8th grade history projects such as creating a game board or video play have been given "F" failing grades even for completed work by students with high standardized test scores in districts such as the Lake Washington School District.

The NCEE New Standards program for example in its literature proposes that 2 4th graders with the assistance of a professional carpenter produce and build a bike trailer, complete with 3-view and oblique projection, and parts list including cotter pins and counter-sink drill head. The corresponding high school example project was to use an electric motor donated by the power company to engineer and build an electric car. This sort of project might take Toyota a team of 12 engineers 2 years with a budget of 10 million dollars. It would certainly be desirable if all students could demonstrate such performance, but critics wonder if it is unreasonable to expect all students to pass such a level.

OBE as umbrella for education reform

Standards-based reform is a comprehensive school reform model which promotes constructivism, inquiry based science and reform mathematics, which believes that carry and average are too complex and demeaning for K-6, but college geometry and statistics as early as 2nd grade is necessary for the 21st century.

School to work is also usually a component, which replaces the comprehensive high school concept of career and academic tracks into requiring all students to spend school time in a work experience, much like the German concept, except that students on a university track are exempt from working for a company.

Accountability: OBE for College

One ironic effect of exit examinations is that it may become more difficult to graduate from high school than enter college. There is no passing level for college entry tests like the SAT. Such tests are only required by the few colleges with competitive admissions, and even then, every college sets its own admissions standards. In the United States, a college education from some institution is available to anyone who has the time and money to attend. But most colleges do require a high school diploma, but many exit examinations such as WASL have failure rates as high as 50 per cent in math, and much higher for minority groups. As high as 25 per cent of students deemed ready to take college credit course in high school fail these tests, which is consistent with the goal of restricting high shool graduation only to those students who are qualified to enter a competitive 4 year university. Historically, any student who could maintain a D average, and demonstrate 6th grade literacy proficiency could get a high school diploma in the United States. Since these tests do not have a different pass point for recent immigrants, state institutions who currently admit recent immigrants with very high math scores would not be able to admit students who lack diplomas because their English skills are not at the level of a native-born university student.

This may change as colleges are considering adopting similar standards-based assessments which would require critereion-based standards for admission or to earn a diploma. It is likely that students would be held to "one higher world-class standard" for mathematics (college mathematics level is calculus), language (college level literature), and science. The movement for excellence and accountability, and alignment with K-12 is moving colleges into the standards movement[18] Texas governor Rick Perry has proposed to increase funding by 8 percent, or $712 million, and require exit exams, holding colleges and universities accountable for students' performance. He has been supported by Sara Martinez Tucker, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education. The Hispanic Scholarship Fund, issued a report last year recommending some of the same initiatives that Perry is proposing, somewhat ironic in view of the effect that the standards movement has in the high rates of failure of minorities on standards based examinations.

Performance Based Economy

Outcome-based education is also being considered beyond K-12 education and even college. Standards have been proposed by the National Skill Standards Board in the United States, similar to labor certifications in other nations. Marc Tucker of the NCEE, who founded the skills board, proposed that like in Europe, all job applicants pass a performance based test with disproportionate failure rates for minorities in one of a dozen job categories order to be eligible for employment. Performance based systems for rating physicians or job performance have met opposition as they are being adopted by corporations and governments across the entire economy in the United States. Corporations such as Microsoft have tried and abandoned systems requiring managers to rank employees, requiring a certain number to be given low rankings. No Child Left Behind is only one of the first government programs were legislators authorize the creation of "higher" or "world class" standards and goals set by bureaucrats rather than the competition, starting with K-12 children. "Lifetime Learning" is a movement in which not only children, but adults participate in a government extension of public education which holds citizens from cradle to grave accountable to world class standards.

With the promise of improved performance, and eradicating mediocrity, they also set up many for failure by requiring performance far in excess of currently expected levels. Serious sanctions such as closing down schools, or denying diplomas will be meted out against unfortunate violators

A performance based economy

OBE in K-12 only affects children, however, a similar movement for performance based systems is being deployed for setting salaries, firing low rated employees, rating physicians, lawyers, and other professions. Such principles could eventually reach across an entire performance-based economy where all workers and companies are graded, punished and rewared against unrealistic standards set by a governmental body rather than markets, or rankings. No Child Left Behind is one of the first federal programs where the government sets "high world class standards", far beyond current levels, for performance and improvement that must be met, or serious sanctions will be meted out against violators.


  1. [1] "Consultant gets tough advice from Grayslake school parents" Daily Herald, April 25 2001 By C.L. WALLER
  2. "The Harmful Effects of Algorithms in Grades 1--4", by Constance Kamii & Ann Dominick in The Teaching and Learning of Algorithms in School Mathematics (NCTM Yearbook, 1998):"The teaching of algorithms is based on the erroneous assumption that mathematics is a cultural heritage that must be transmitted to the next generation." (p.132)
  3. "What does it mean to teach mathematics for social justice? Why should all students learn mathematics, anyway? (cached)
  4. [2] Toward Success at Scale. By Tom Vander Ark "The new proposition of the standards movement -- that all students should leave high school prepared for college, work, and citizenship -- is widely accepted"
  5. Federal Way Public Schools (Washington State) "Closing the Gap" Equity and Achievement Goals 2002
  6. [3]
  7. [4]
  8. Atlanta Public Schools ..that translates into the belief that ALL students have potential and that ALL students will succeed. [5]
  9. [6]
  10. [7] Berryessa School District, California
  11. [8] Joanne Jacobs 24 August 2006
  12. Bud the Teacher: Good Question -- Standards or Seat Time [9]
  13. (Olson, 1993, p. 25) (quote from MW Kirst, RL Bird, SA Raizen, 1997 - which can be found at [10]).
  14. [11] Run Silent, Run Deep Kirkland Jr. High School, Melson gave F to 8th grade 2005 project
  15. WA scraps most of controversial education system
  16. Washington State OSPI WASL 2006 results
  17. A Framework for Success for All Students [12]
  18. [13] Perry's higher education plan praised A senior federal official calls governor's plan for more aid, incentives and accountability 'a bold step.' By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF February 18, 2007

See also

Nonprofit organizations, education leaders promoting OBE

  • NCTM Math teachers organization
  • New Standards Project
  • Marc Tucker (NCEE)
  • Coalition of Essential Schools

States with education reform based on OBE

  • Arizona AIMS
  • California CLAS (defunct)
  • Kentucky KIRIS (defunct)
  • Massachusetts (1993) MCAS
  • Washington (1993) WASL

Education Reform


External links


Pro OBE Links

Anti OBE Links

af:Uitkomsgebaseerde onderwys