• No results found

Outcome-based Education: A review of the literature


Academic year: 2023

Share "Outcome-based Education: A review of the literature"


Loading.... (view fulltext now)

Full text



Outcome-based Education:

A review of the Literature




Prepared for the Education Department of Western Australia October 1995

Sue Willis and Barry Kissane School of Education Murdoch University

Murdoch, Western Australia 6150


Q Education Department of Western Australia 1995

Reproduction of this work in whole or part for educational purposes within an educational institution and on condition that it not be offered for sale, is permitted by the Education Department of Western Australia.

isвN 0 73о9 6313 6



Introduction 1

Premises and principles of outcome-based education 2

Curriculum content and pedagogy 2

High quality outcomes for all students 3

Accountability and the professionalism of teachers 3

Principles of OBE 4

The description of expected student outcomes 5

Goals, objectives and outcomes 5

The conceptual basis of outcomes 7

The same outcomes for all 13

The structure of programme outcomes 16

In summary 21

OBE and curriculum 21

Clarity of focus 21

Expanded opportunities to learn 25

Enhancing the capacity of schools and teachers 28

Assessment of student outcomes 31

Assessment situations and tasks 32

Models for judging students' achievements 34

Professional judgement 39

Conclusion 43

References 44



Educators and the public need to understand why society will be better served if schools clarify their purposes, reorganise as necessary to achieve these purposes, and expect students to demonstrate the knowledge and skills needed for success in life. (Brandt 1994b, p 3)

[Wle must rethink the uses of assessment, since we have entered an era where the goal of schooling is to educate all children well, rather than selecting a 'talented tenth' for knowledge work. (Darling-Hammond 1994b, p 25)

We might consider not only whether our suggested innovations can work, but also how we can manage them so that they will flourish in practice, in the field, at a considerable distance from the experts. We should get no credit for promoting promising but ultimately impractical ideas. (Oliver 1993, p 4)


The expression 'student outcomes' is used in two distinct ways in education. Firstly, it may refer to a desired state in individual students by describing the actual capabilities (knowledge, understanding, competencies, orientations, ...) they should develop as a result of their school education. This is not the same as, for example, their score or degree of success or the content of the courses they have taken. In this usage, a statement that a student had achieved a set of outcomes would mean exactly that; it would not mean that she or he had been successful on a curriculum intended to address those outcomes or had passed a test which contained items relevant to the outcomes or had performed well on tasks that acted as a proxy or were predictive of the outcomes described. Secondly, 'student outcomes' may refer to class-, institution- or system-level performance indicators such as the distribution of test results, course completion rates, measures of student alienation, or post-course destination of

students. In this usage, 'student outcomes' are performance indicators which either provide evidence of what has happened with respect to a group of students or define a desired state (or target) with respect to that group of students (Helsby & Saunders 1993).

While the latter usage has been more common, it is not the way the term is used in this review. It is the use of 'student outcome' interchangeably with 'learning outcome' or 'learner outcome', to describe the actual learning students are to exhibit which is of relevance here because it is this usage that is intended in 'outcome-based education'.

There is considerable confusion about what 'outcome-based education' (OBE) means and about the various forms it takes. Programmes described as 'outcome-based' are often quite dissimilar and programmes which are similar in approach may describe themselves differently. Thus, there are many visions and many versions of OBE. The characteristic features of outcome-based education, however, centre on the word based.

OBE describes an educational process which is based on trying to achieve certain specified outcomes in terms of individual student learning. Thus, having decided what are the key things students should understand and be able to do or the

qualities they should develop, both structures and curricula are designed to achieve those capabilities or qualities. Educational structures and curriculum are regarded as means not ends. If they do not do the job they are rethought.

• OBE implies outcomes-based accountability. This means that assessments of individual student progress are based on, and justified in terms of, the outcomes


students actually achieve. Also evaluations of the effectiveness of class-, school- and system-level policies and practices are based on the extent to which students achieve the outcomes.

The purpose of this paper is twofold: firstly, to provide an analysis of the basic

principles of, and meanings attributed to, 'outcome-based education' as identified in the Australian and international literature; and, secondly, to consider the implications of outcome-based education for curriculum and assessment policy and practice at both the system and the school level.


For a school or education system (which may be a nation, state or district) to adopt an outcome-based philosophy means, in effect, that the system believes there are certain things that all students should learn as a result of attending its school(s), that it is prepared to say publicly what these things are, and that it is prepared to stand accountable in terms of them. Outcome-based education is often described as involving a fundamental philosophical shift in curriculum policy, practice and

evaluation because of its unrelenting focus on what students have learned rather than on what systems and schools have provided and teachers have taught.

People may be drawn to outcome-based approaches for quite different reasons. Some consider that OBE enhances what is actually taught to students, others see OBE as a means of ensuring that all students have access to and succeed with high quality outcomes, and still others that OBE offers an improved approach to accountability and to the distribution of responsibilities within a school system.

Curriculum content and pedagogy

With regards to curriculum content and pedagogy, OBE involves the premise that decisions about what and how to teach should be driven by the outcomes we would like students to exhibit at the end of their educational experience. O'Neil quotes Grant Wiggins as saying, 'It's a simple matter of making sure that you're clear on what teaching should accomplish ... and adjusting your teaching and assessing as necessary to accomplish what you set out to accomplish' (1994, p 6-7). O'Neil suggests that

thought of in this way, OBE describes a process and one which could lead to a range of quite different types of schools.

A key claim of OBE is that teaching and learning will be enhanced by the clear articulation of the desired outcomes of learning and a commitment by the whole school community to align teaching and assessment towards these outcomes. The argument is that differences in teachers' judgements about student learning — of how to make it happen and how to tell when it has — are more often due to differences in interpretation of 'what's important' than they are to an inability to make good

judgements. If teachers develop a shared and improved understanding of the important outcomes of education, they will judge their students' learning more validly and reliably. The information upon which they are basing their judgements will be better and this will have a direct and enhancing impact on their practice, that is, on the curriculum they provide and the pedagogies they adopt (Willis 1994). Indeed, the effective schools literature reviewed by Purkey and Smith (1983) suggests that clear and shared goals are important characteristics of an effective school.


A corollary of this argument is that school improvement is unlikely to occur simply through the external imposition of, or even the free adoption of, a set of outcomes.

When all members of a school community are involved in formulating student outcomes, the process of producing them should facilitate a common understanding and hence improved clarity of focus. When outcomes are developed externally to the school, their adoption will be insufficient to ensure a common interpretation and considerable professional development is likely to be needed to enable teachers to develop a shared meaning for, and commitment to, them (Darling-Hammond 1994а).

High quality outcomes for all students

With regards to equity, OBE involves the premises that all students can achieve learning outcomes of significance so long as the conditions necessary for their success are met. The argument is that there is considerable social justice potential in the clear articulation of 'what's important' and the commitment to ensuring that all groups of students, regardless of their class, gender, race, ethnicity, physical 'ableness', and so on, are expected to achieve at high levels on a common curriculum. Such a position has been put regarding developments in the United Kingdom (Isaacson & Coombe 1991), the United States (O'Neil 1993а; Porter 1994), South Africa (Adler 1991) and Australia (Blackburn 1991). Each argue that we should not be prepared to accept a situation where, explicitly or implicitly, less is expected of, and offered to, certain groups of students. As these and other commentators point out, however, the dangers are

considerable that what is offered as a promise to students becomes a threat or hurdle to be jumped by them. Referring to the Australian curriculum profiles, Willis (1995а) suggests that their adoption and use 'with integrity' would involve making three commitments to students and their families:

The first is to defining 'success' ... as having learned something worthwhile — both valuable and valued knowledge — rather than having 'passed the course' or 'lasted the distance.' It is a promise to students that when we say they have achieved the outcomes, they have — not some partial or lesser version of them. The second commitment is to make transparent the criteria by which students will be judged and to base assessments honestly upon these criteria and not add other 'hidden' criteria. The third commitment is to altering the conditions of schooling to ensure that all students encounter the opportunities necessary for their ... success.

(p 173)

Few would query the first two of these 'commitments' but the third is considerably more problematical. Proponents claim that OBE offers an educational process which attends to all three commitments, the third being based on these beliefs:

• All students can learn and succeed (but not on the same day in the same way).

• Success breeds success.

• Schools control the conditions of success. (Spady and MarshaiI 1991, p 67)

And indeed, many schools in Australia and around the world have adopted some variation of these premises as a starting point for their school reform efforts (e.g.

Lockerbie 1995). As King and Evans describe it, 'OBE forces us to express what we value in education, to commit educational resources to bringing that to life in students, and

— in contrast to present practice — to continue until we have succeeded' (1991, p 74).

Accountability and the professionalism of teachers

With regards to accountability, OBE involves the premise that accountability for schools and for school systems should be in terms of student outcomes (referred to as outputs) rather than in terms of what is provided by way of curriculum, hours of instruction, staff-student ratios, school buildings, equipment or textbooks, or support


services (referred to as inputs). Willis (1994) suggests that making explicit the student outcomes expected from schooling is the education system's means of informing the community what it can expect from schools and it is also the community's means of informing schools what it expects from them.

Where a driving force for OBE is better accountability, a common feature is that

decisions about expected significant learning outcomes are determined across a broader school community, that is, a district or state or national education system. Individual schools, however, are seen as the appropriate locus of final decisions about how best to achieve these outcomes. King and Evans suggest that the attraction of outcome-based education is its effective coupling of control with autonomy:

At the central level, legislatures and school boards exert control by setting exit outcomes; at the same time, they give schools the autonomy to achieve these outcomes in any number of ways. With the ends set, the means to those ends cart rest totally in the hands of school people ... Schools have both the freedom to effect exit outcomes in any appropriate way and the responsibility for producing results. (1991, p 74)

This particular division of responsibilities is increasingly common in countries across the world. For example, describing the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, Foster (1991, p 36) states, 'Staffs in the schools are free to organize their resources and

instructional practices in whatever way they believe necessary to attain the desired student outcomes'. Speaking of the efforts to develop nation-wide attainment targets for 15/16-year-olds in The Netherlands, Van den Brink (1993, p 459) states that it 'includes a deliberate choice of ample room for local variations ... Furthermore, each school is expected to determine the means to achieve these national standards'.

The philosophy underpinning this approach to accountability is that desired student outcomes should be clearly articulated and it is these, rather than a plethora of policies and regulations about how schools should function, which should be the foundation for decisions about curriculum, teaching, assessment, professional development, and so on. 'Presumably such a system would be better aligned, and focused, and thus more efficient than the system now operating' (O'Neil 1994, p 8). A corollary to this

argument is that system improvement through OBE is unlikely to occur unless all levels of the system have a shared understanding of what it means to be 'outcome- based' anд unless policies of the system are consistent with and supportive of OBE, generally, and the outcomes the system endorses, specifically (Porter 1994).

Principles of OBE

Bill Spady, who first coined the expression 'outcome-based education', considers that the four principles of OBE are 'clarity of focus', 'expanded opportunity', 'high

expectations', and 'design down'. He says:

Keep asking the critical questions about the four principles. First, do we have a clear focus on what we expect of our kids? Second, are we willing to provide expanded opportunities for our kids to be successful? Third, what can we say about the system of expectations we have in our district? Look at our tracking; look at our grading system. And fourth, how do we design cur- riculum? Are we designing down from clearly-established outcomes, or are we simply buying textbooks and perpetuating what has been done for 100 years? (Spady in Brandt 1992/3, p 70)

Most proponents of OBE would endorse these principles. None of them is as straight forward as it might at first seem, however, and, as will become clear in this review, each requires that inherently controversial matters be addressed.



Spady has suggested that one of the critical questions for schools engaged in OBE is, 'Do we have a clear focus on what we expect of our kids?' The development of outcomes which provide a clear focus is no easy matter and poorly conceived outcomes can result in the failure of attempts to enhance practice. In this section, we will first

distinguish outcomes from goals and objectives, and then describe alternative ways of conceptualising and structuring outcomes.

Goals, objectives and outcomes

We suggested earlier that outcomes described the actual capabilities, knowledge or qualities students should develop as a result of their educational experiences. For example,

Outcomes are high-quality, culminating demonstrations of significant learning in context.

(Spady 1994, p 18)

Outcomes, the end-products of the instructional process, may be observable or internal changes in the learner. [This shifts] the focus from objectives derived often from content or textbook outlines to objectives based on desired changes in the learner. (King & Evans 1991, p 73) Student outcome statements describe what students typically are able to do as a consequence of a program of planned learning activities. (Randall 1993)

In the literature about OBE, however, the terms 'goals', 'outcomes' and 'objectives' are used in a range of different ways. For some people these terms have very special and distinct meanings; for others the terms are almost interchangeable. Even given that one cannot control the use of such language, it is worth drawing some distinctions.


As commonly used in education, goals are rather broad and general descriptions of the long term aims of a whole curriculum or learning area. For example, the National Statement on Science for Australian Schools includes as a goal that 'all students should develop the confidence, optimism, skills and abilities to satisfy their own curiosity about the workings of the physical, biological and technical world ...' (AEC 1994, p 9). Goals tend to provide art indication of the philosophical base of a

curriculum and thus are intended to provide a general orientation for the

development of the curriculum. While goals indicate 'what' they do not indicate 'how well' and it is rarely intended that students' achievements will be assessed directly in terms of their achievement of the goals.


The term 'objective' is used in a range of ways. Firstly, objectives vary in their specificity. Some, often called 'general objectives', play a similar role to curriculum goals. They are few in number and broad in scope, may represent something of a 'wish list' and are not directly assessed. Others are rather narrow in scope and — over a whole curriculum or course — will be many in number. They are sometimes called 'specific objectives' although what they specify varies widely and indeed many are not very specific at all while others are trivially so. They may describe what the teacher is to do ('to model the use of Multibase Arithmetic Blocks'), what the student is to do ('the student will explore basic foods through a variety of practical experiences'), the subject matter to be covered ('the basic structure of the periodic table'), some

generalised intention ('this unit will provide a variety of writing opportunities') or the


expected student learning ('the student will be able to remove the buzzer marks from timber'). At times, the way in which objectives are expressed does not distinguish means from ends. For example, the objective 'investigate promotion techniques used in advertising' might refer to the learning experience to be provided or to what

students are to learn and, if the latter, the expected learning might be the capacity to investigate or the knowledge of promotion techniques (or both). Sadler (1987, p 195) suggests that 'objectives are prospective; they tell what is intended to happen, and so serve as organisers of learning experiences'.

Ralph Tyler in his seminal book, Basic principles of curriculum and instruction (1949), argued that educational purposes or goals should be articulated (or operationalised) in the form of objectives which describe the desired changes in the learner in such a way that one can tell whether or not they have been achieved. Such objectives should, he argued, form the basis of overall curriculum development, the planning of particular learning experiences, student assessment and the evaluation of the learning program.

This usage of objective emphasises 'ends' and resonates strongly with the definitions of outcomes provided earlier. Helsby and Saunders (1993) say of Tyler's work:

Tyler's work ... had a relatively liberating effect at that time.... Tyler turned attention ...

towards the school curriculum and its improvement, extended the range of valid evaluation data far beyond students test results and encouraged teachers to think explicitly about what they were trying to do. His rationale was based on the assumption that schools had a broad range of purposes, that teachers were competent and autonomous professionals, and that evaluation was not wholly dependent upon psychometric measures of a narrow range of student competencies by outside experts. (p 62, p 63)

They also comment, however, that 'it seems clear that many who adopted his objectives model did not use it in the way in which Tyler had conceived it' (p 63).

While Tyler had a broad view of the nature of objectives, and of the teacher's

professional role, later interpretations of his work defined each of them rather more narrowly and his ideas became closely associated with the behavioural objectives movement which focussed attention on the articulation of objectives in terms of expected student behaviours. Mager's (1962) influential book on behavioural

objectives emphasised the importance of precision, clarity and specificity of objectives.

Popham (1969) and Bloom, Hastings and Madaus (1971) argued that objectives should be stated as directly observable behaviours, which are without ambiguity and which can therefore reliably be judged to be present or not. Notwithstanding the work of Bloom and colleagues, the difficulty of writing behavioural objectives for higher order capabilities meant that many of the objectives were individually quite trivial. In order to achieve the level of precise behavioural specification demanded, curricula became atomised into sometimes hundreds of objectives with the assumption being that 'the whole' was simply the sum of the parts.


The current interest in the articulation of expected student outcomes could be seen as a return to Tyler's early conception of the role of objectives before his work was

overtaken by the behavioural objectives movement. King and Evans see outcomes as particular types of objectives, suggesting that outcomes shift 'the focus from objectives derived often from content or textbook outlines to objectives based on desired changes in the learner' (1991, p 73). They and other North American writers tend to regard outcomes as particular kinds of objectives but prefer the use of the word 'outcome' to


emphasise that they describe significant changes in students which result from provided learning experiences and that they focus on the ends rather than means.

Outcomes are generally rather broader in scope than objectives, describing

characteristics, behaviours or understandings in the learner which have significance beyond the particular learning sequence or phase, indeed beyond school. For example, a curriculum might include work on recognising different parts of a sentence, the justification being that it will assist the student to write well. In this case, the outcome would be about writing well, the objectives would relate to the particular means adopted to achieve that outcome, for example, understanding the role of verbs in sentences. Different means of helping students write better which do not involve analysing sentences might instead be adopted. The outcome would not change but the curriculum objectives would. Thus, outcomes are generally superordinate to the specifics of any particular curriculum, whereas common usage tends to make

objectives specific to particular curricula content and pedagogical practices. Outcomes relate to the macro level of curriculum development rather than to the micro level.

To take an existing course or unit and relabel or even rephrase what were 'objectives' as 'outcomes' not only does not result in OBE — it is actually inconsistent with OBE.

The emphasis in OBE on students' actually demonstrating that they have achieved particular outcomes, the use of language such as 'demonstration' and 'performance', and even the word 'outcome' itself, has led to some association of OBE with

behaviourism. As a result, some commentators (see, for example, Ellerton & Clements 1994; McKernan 1993) direct any criticisms which can be levelled at competency-based education and mastery learning — each of which have been behaviouristic and atomistic in their execution — to any efforts to describe the expected learning

outcomes of schooling. This appears to be a misinterpretation of OBE, albeit one that is widespread amongst opponents of OBE and also some who claim to be practising OBE.

A major critique of behaviourism is that it does not allow distinctions to be made between accidental performance, rote performance and performance which is a result of an underlying more broadly applicable competence (this follows Chomsky 1965).

Rather than performance being seen as a means through which competence may be inferred, the performances themselves become the focus of attention with the result that 'education' degenerates into 'training'. The rather impoverished view of

competency which equates it with particular behaviours is not accepted by proponents of OBE. For example, Fitzpatrick, a teacher involved in her districts' development of outcomes, comments:

These indicators provide a picture of the ability described by each outcome.

[We had] to be aware of some critical challenges to identifying these indicators, such as the fact that an ability is larger than the observed performance of it or that any performance or demonstration of an ability is larger than the sum of the criteria applied to it. (1991, p 19)

The view that outcomes describe broad underlying capabilities of which particular behaviours are evidence seems typical of recent versions of OBE.

The conceptual basis of outcomes

Some conceptual basis is needed for the description of the student outcomes expected of schooling. This conceptualisation will influence — although it certainly need not determine — how the school curriculum is conceived and hence structured. For example, outcome-based education has forced many school communities to confront the question of whether the school curriculum should be thought of in terms of


separate subjects or should deal directly with the demands of life outside school (Brandt 1992/3; O'Neil 1994). It has also required them to be more explicit about whether, and if so how, their curricula support the development of higher order cognitive skills and of affective skills. O'Neil quotes one commentator as saying, 'the questions ultimately get down to the fundamentals — what's worth knowing and what's the purpose of schooling.... Outcome-based education gets to the heart of the matter' (1994, p 7).

Spady and Marshall (1991), who together founded the High Success Network of OBE schools, have described three versions of OBE: traditional, transitional and

transformational. These differ in their conceptual origins and in the nature of the outcomes they emphasise. The distinction is helpful in making sense of the vast array of programmes that go under the title of OBE.

Traditional ORE

Traditional outcomes are based closely on an existing curriculum, that is, existing curriculum content and structure (lessons, units, courses and subject areas) form the starting point. They articulate what aspects of existing curriculum are important for students to learn to a high level of performance. These outcomes then provide a clearer focus for future curriculum implementation and assessment. The outcomes, however, are often limited to individual units or topics or courses with each an end in itself, that is, they are subordinate to existing curricula.

Consistent with the distinction made in the last section between objectives and outcomes, Spady and Marshall suggest that such outcomes should more correctly be labelled 'curriculum-based objectives'. Until recently, most outcomes have been

traditional but, they argues Spady, programmes utilising such outcomes should not be called OBE because they are not outcome-based.

We have not collectively stopped to examine what it would really mean to BASE our system on intended outcomes for all students rather than on how long the educational process has been defined to last or how its curriculum and delivery structures are already organised. As a result, in the mine of OBE, educators and policy makers mistakenly:

1 Write outcomes about existing curricula instead of designing curricula that facilitate intended outcomes;

2 Tie outcome performances directly to the calendar at all levels of the system;

3 Equate time-based performance testing systems and results with intended instructional outcomes;

4 Confuse specific step-by-step instructional objectives with culminating outcomes of significance;

and otherwise

5 Refer to anything that has anything to do with learning outcomes as outcomes-based, no matter how time-based or curriculum-based it is. (Spady 1992)

The basic purpose of traditional OBE is to improve individual teacher effectiveness and to improve the percentage of students doing well on existing curricula and conventional measures of achievement and this, according to Spady and Marshall, it does seem to do. Simply pursuing more success on objectives derived from the components of the existing curriculum is, however, an inadequate approach to the enhancement of student outcomes. It addresses how successfully students learn (and teachers teach) within existing structures and curriculum but does not place the

structures and curriculum themselves under scrutiny (Willis 1995, Darling-Hammond 199413). Also, it does not improve the quality of what they are expected to learn (Spady 1994).


For Spady, the question we should ask of outcomes is: 'Do the outcomes we expect students to demonstrate matter in the long run — in life after formal schooling?' (Spady 1994, p 18) and the starting point for curriculum decisions should be what we want students to be able to do at the end of their schooling, '... at the "real" end — not just the end of the week, the end of semester, the end of the year - but at the end of their time with us' (Spady in Brandt 1992/3, p 66). These lead Spady to two features of what he calls 'exit outcomes': firstly, they should be derived from an analysis of adult life roles rather than from an analysis of the subject disciplines; and, secondly, they should be culminating demonstrations of learning rather than specific grade- or course-related competencies. He calls such outcomes 'transformational'.

Transformational OBE

Transformational OBE starts with exit outcomes which focus upon 'adult life roles'.

For example, the Aurora Public Schools in Colorado (USA) has five 'big' exit outcomes for learners: Self-Directed Learner, Collaborative Worker, Complex Thinker, Quality Producer and Community Contributor, each defined in terms of a number of

indicators or proficiencies (which may themselves be regarded as outcomes), for example:

Complex Thinker

10. Uses a wide variety of strategies for managing complex issues.

11. Selects strategies appropriate to the resolution of complex issues and applies the strategies with accuracy and thoroughness.

12. Accesses and uses topic relevant knowledge.

Community Contributor

17. Demonstrates knowledge about his or her diverse communities.

18. Takes action.

19. Reflects on role as a community contributor. (Redding 1992, p 50)

Such 'big' exit outcomes then become the basis for identifying the 'knowledge, competence and orientations ... that you deem critical for assuring success on the outcomes' (Brandt 1992/3, p 69) and these in turn are the basis for curriculum design.

In Spady's vision of transformed schools, the curriculum would be designed around 'complex role performance in real situations with real demands'. A 'complex role performance' related to the above exit outcomes might be as follows:

[O]rganize and participate in a community service team that monitors major community issues and problems, develops alternatives — including proposed changes in laws — for addressing them, and explains potential solutions to key community groups. (Spady 1994, p 21)

Spady describes subject area learning as enabling outcomes rather than outcomes in their own right, where 'enabling outcomes' may be checkpoints 'along the way' to exit outcomes or 'benchmarks' which are derived from, and show progression towards, the exit outcomes.

Mathematics would not be taught as a totally separate subject, but learnt in ways that link it to real-life problems, issues and challenges, so that it becomes the tool it was intended to be.

Instead of teaching history by itself, we weave the evolution and historical development of ideas throughout everything we teach. In this way, students learn to thoroughly examine current problems, issues and phenomena in depth and ask 'Why?' (Spady 1993, p 24)

This has proved to be one of the most contentious issues for OBE. O'Neil comments that, 'architects of OBE plans find it extraordinarily difficult to weave the academic content into the broad outcomes' and 'critics convinced the general public that such [transformational exit] outcomes would lead to more 'touchy-feely' exercises and less


history and math in schools' (1994, p 9). Indeed, there has been a wave of opposition in the US to outcomes which 'focus on social and behavioural issues [rather] than on academics' and the 'treatment of academic knowledge as a low priority' (Gandal 1995, p 16, 17). The difficulty of describing outcomes based on performance roles and, at the same time, making subject content visible has provided fuel for opponents of

transformational forms of OBE who variously claim that traditional academic content has been sacrificed, that the outcomes are vague and impossible to measure, or that they involve values that are not within the domain of schools.

There is little doubt that most proponents of OBE would argue that its importance lies in improving what as well as how well students learn and that the question, 'Do the outcomes we expect students to demonstrate matter in the long run?' is the

appropriate one. Furthermore, most agree that the educational experience is too fragmented and that important outcomes not easily pegged to typical subject area divisions and pedagogical approaches are not well handled.

Many, however, do not agree with Spady's views of what matters 'in the long run' or with what is necessary to 'transform' schools. For example, Glatthorn (1993) argues that there is no empirical base supporting the superiority of Spady's approach and considers that Spady's 'narrowness' causes him to slight the importance of subject matter knowledge.

[T]rar'sformationa! curricula may be seen as an extreme version of curriculum integration. The research in general supports the effectiveness of curriculum integration ... However, this 'transformational' approach is not necessarily more effective or inherently superior to subject- centred approaches.... As Brophy and Alleman note, curriculum integration is a means, not an end, they point out that many integrated units they have examined are badly designed collections of activities.

Also, increasing evidence suggests that in-depth knowledge is essential for problem solving.

As Resnick and Юopfer point out, experts in a field reason more powerfully on topics they understand in depth. Such indepth knowledge would seem difficult to achieve in 'trans- formational' units that deal with broad and complex multidisciplinary issues. (p 359-360)

In fact, most otherwise 'transformational' school districts add to their life-role exit outcomes another called 'knowledgeable person'. According to Marzano (1994), like the non-content 'big' outcomes, 'knowledgeable person' is defined in terms of a number of proficiencies (or outcomes). In this case, however, there is usually a large number of them (30-80), between two to five for each curriculum area. These

proficiencies tend themselves to be rather broad and reflect aspects or strands of a curriculum area. For example, a proficiency for geography might be 'understand the physical and human characteristics of place' (p 45). Such schools do teach in subject areas but they design their curriculum and assessments in order to address their broad exit outcomes as well as subject specific knowledge or competence (Pollock 1992;

Redding 1992).

Commentators (e.g. Marzano 1994; O'Neil 1994) suggest that the majority of reformers both in the United States and elsewhere have not accepted Spady's arguments for completely transformational exit outcomes, although many have implemented what Spady refers to as 'transitional' outcomes.

Transitional OBE

Transitional OBE communities usually generate exit outcomes which they require all their students to demonstrate and which guide their curriculum programme

decisions. These exit outcomes may not reflect 'life roles' in Spady's sense but they do


reflect knowledge, competencies and orientations which are likely to be important to people generally in their post-school lives. For example, Arlington Heights District in Illinois is renowned for its work on OBE and has been characterised by Spady as

transitional, rather than transformational, but nevertheless as pioneering. It calls its exit outcomes 'general learner outcomes' for graduating students and describes them as follows:

• ability to communicate (in reading, writing, speaking, listening and numeracy skills);

• facility in social interaction;

• analytic capabilities;

• problem solving skills;

• skill in making value judgements and decisions;

• skill in creative expression and in responding to the creative work of others;

• civic responsibility;

• responsible participation in a global environment;

• skill in developing and maintaining wellness;

• skill in using technology as a tool for learning;

• skill in life and career planning. (Fitzpatrick 1991, p 19)

These outcomes are strongly reminiscent of goals and some writers refer to them as such. As Fitzpatrick states of the Arlington Heights general learner outcomes, however, these are not intended to be read as goals in the conventional sense.

It is important to note that these 11 statements are not goal statements or simply as part of the districts' philosophy. Rather, they are outcome statements - our students are required to demonstrate achievement of these outcomes. (Fitzpatrick 1991, p 19)

The intention with exit outcome statements is to operationalise the more visionary goals so that their achievement can be assessed for graduation purposes. Based on these exit outcomes, Arlington Heights has developed 'programme level outcomes' for the learning areas of English, mathematics, science, social studies, fine arts, physical education and health, foreign language, and practical arts and also for 'student services and student activities' in order to 'expand the range of opportunities for students to achieve each of the general learner outcomes' (Fitzpatrick 1991, p 19).

The Coalition of Essential Schools which was founded in the USA by Theodore Sizer and has spread at least to Australia and Canada, has its own version of OBE based on the notion of 'planning backwards' from a vision of 'producing graduates in the image of the schools' collective vision of competent intellectual performance' (McDonald 1993, p 481).

Schools planning backwards have tried setting aside temporarily what is broadly called curriculum and instead simply imagine the school's candidates for graduation using their minds well. In its mind's eye, the school struggles to acquire a vision of integrated intellectual performance ... Perhaps, in this vision, candidates for graduation are able to deal well with questions posed by expert strangers on matters they have spent months studying

independently. Or perhaps they can discuss several tough texts in a graduation seminar, then write about the texts with skill, conviction, and insight. Perhaps they do this in two

languages. Perhaps they show sculptures they've created ...

These activities are what the Coalition of Essential Schools calls exhibitions ... they offer concrete images of real kids ... [and] they also function as assessment tools. (McDonald 1992, p 1-2)

Again, these are not simply goal statements or mission statements; they describe what students will be expected to demonstrate for graduation. Having decided what these 'exhibitions' will be, the school then 'struggles to make them actual by planning backwards' (1992, p 2).


Johnson City District in New York State is renowned for the remarkable and long term success of its transitional OBE programme in improving achievement particularly, but certainly not only, for 'minority' students (Evans & King 1994). It has five broad exit outcomes which relate to 'self esteem, thinking and understanding in academics, problem solving and decision making, being a self-directed learner, and concern for others' (Zlatos 1993, p 24). In addition, it has set programme level outcomes both within and across discipline areas.

Johnson City has three basic [types of] outcomes. The first is academics. These are the parts you ought to be grading, nothing else. Under academics, we want students to be able to think within every discipline ... within science, within art, within health.... We want our students to understand [and] we've made an attempt to define what we mean by understanding in each of the disciplines. And ... students should be self-directed within each discipline [which means] being able to use the tools of the discipline to be able to carry out an investigation in that discipline.

The second outcomes are the work and process skills. We want our students to be able to work in groups. We want them to be accountable for their work. We want them to be able to make decisions, to solve problems, to communicate.

And the third outcomes are what you might call attitudes. We want our students to love learning, to be concerned about one another.... [W]e teach these things. But mostly, we develop such qualities through the environment. And we measure how well we're doing it with

standards and indicators that are very clear. We do measure it — but we don't grade individuals on such outcomes. (Mammery in Brandt 1994а, p 27)

Johnston City District has not experienced the criticisms levelled at some OBE

programmes despite their inclusion of outcomes relating to such things as 'self esteem' and 'concern for others'. This, according to Mammery, is because having written what, inevitably, had to be somewhat 'fuzzy' descriptions of outcomes, they took the

additional step of elaborating their meaning through exemplars.

You can't just say, 'We want our kids to have good self esteem,' and not define that.... And when you make fuzzy terms clear, people say, 'That makes sense.' ... Here's an example of what we mean by self-esteem: that kids take reasonable risks in learning. Having a definition like that helps you avoid inappropriate behaviours like having students of the month, or having an assembly where everybody shouts, 'I am good, I am good,' even though they are not learning.

So we define these outcomes clearly and sensibly. And because of that, I've never heard anybody say, 'We don't want that for our kids.' (Mammery in Brandt 1994а, p 27)

While traditional OBE is criticised by Spady as being mainly concerned with success in school and having no clear conception of what we want students to be able to do in life beyond school, he regards transitional OBE positively because it is concerned with:

... what is most essential for our students to know, be able to do, and be like in order to succeed once they have graduated ... [and does] address higher order competencies that are essential in virtually all life and learning settings. (1993, p 8-9)

While it does not question the fundamental purposes of, or the existing frameworks and structures of, traditional schooling, Spady considers it to have considerable potential for school communities which are embracing the principles of OBE.

In general, then, OBE schools or systems identify exit outcomes which all students are expected to achieve. These exit outcomes may relate to graduation or to the

compulsory years of schooling or the years for which a broadly common curriculum applies. They tend to be few in number — somewhere between five and fifteen outcomes is common — and broad in scope. Exit outcomes may, as we have already


suggested, reflect 'life-roles' directly or they may reflect knowledge, competencies and orientations which are important generally beyond school.

In addition, they identify programme level outcomes which are more specific outcomes for particular domains of the overall school curriculum. (Note that the terminology varies and we have at times paraphrased for clarity of meaning.)

Programme level outcomes may directly reflect and link to the exit outcomes or they may fit within traditional school subject boundaries. More commonly, between seven to fifteen broad areas of learning are identified within which school subject areas are placed. Outcomes are then developed for each learning area and the subjects within a learning area held jointly responsible for the learning area outcomes. In addition, programme level outcomes may be described for areas such as vocational education which span all curriculum areas and in areas of the schools' activities such as guidance and counselling (Haack 1994) or student activities (Fitzpatrick 1991).

A common variation of this pattern is for the list of exit outcomes to include the broadly defined general subject area outcomes. In this case the number of exit outcomes expands to between 30 and 80. The State of Kentucky, for example, has identified 75 learner outcomes which are broad statements such as:

Students use research tools to locate sources of information relevant to a specific need or problem.

Students identify, compare, construct and use patterns to understand and interpret past and present events and predict future events. (Steffy 1993, p 42)

As we will indicate shortly, general outcomes for each programme are then interpreted 'appropriately' for various levels of schooling.

In Australia, exit outcomes, whether developed by systems, school districts or individual schools, tend to be transitional in nature (e.g. Harris in Rowe 1994). We found no examples where the exit outcomes were yet directly assessed and/or required for graduation. In some cases, however, Australian schools use exit outcomes as the basis for the development of programme outcomes and assessments, and for their school development planning generally. In addition, some systems and schools across Australia are adopting or adapting the Australian curriculum profiles as programme outcomes (Roberts, Tonkin & Hancock 1994; Marsh 1995).

The same outcomes for all

Generally, proponents of OBE consider that the same outcomes should apply to all students. As McGhan says, 'A necessary condition for OBE to succeed is a conviction that all children can achieve a common set of outcomes if given sufficient time and support' (1994, p 72). There are, however, a number of objections to this point of view.

On the one hand, some critics argue that common outcomes will lead to a lowering of expectation and hence poorer outcomes for, and from, those students who have

typically been successful in school. Generally, such critics do not believe that high level outcomes are possible for all students. This perspective is not uncommon. As Foster (1991) comments:

Historically, all children were not expected to master the entire curriculum. Universal education meant universal opportunity, not universal achievement. Schools were expected to sift and sort out the unmotivated and poor performing students in favour of those with some promise of academic excellence. In fact, the academic failure of a certain percentage of students was expected. An outcome different from that was often interpreted as indicating a lack of academic rigour. (p 34-5)


From this perspective, then, common outcomes must inevitably be about minimal competency because, in order to minimise the proportion of students who fail, target levels have to be pitched at low levels. For example, one critic of the Australian

curriculum profiles claims that the developers' preoccupation with equity led them to want to make it easy for everyone to be successful:

And to ensure and facilitate this, the educational standards and levels set will be made to match those of the lowest common denominator in the nation, rather than be linked to the highest or even median level which may exist now (Bolotir 1993, p 14).

OBE communities respond that they do not want to make it easy for anyone to be successful. We should, they argue, expect all students to reach very high standards on all outcomes which are reasonably within their grasp (Spady 1988). It is the outcomes from students that should be used to judge standards, not the apparent standard of courses as suggested by their content descriptions, and not the time students take to reach those high standards. Indeed, many supporters of OBE are most critical of the low level of work produced by able students because of assessment practices which routinely accept low level and mediocre work albeit it may be on 'high level' content.

Rather, they want everyone to be successful on challenging common outcomes.

McDonald (1993) suggests that from the perspective of OBE, the question of equity is 'how to get everybody to a place where some never imagined they could get. This is the equity of ... optimal rather than minimal results' (p 485).

On the other hand, some critics argue that common outcomes set at a high level of expectation are unfair to those who have typically been least well served by schools.

Such critics point to the considerable disparities in the education received by students in different schools (Eisner 1993; Howe 1995) arguing that it would be unfair to hold all students to the same standards when they have different 'opportunities to learn'. The gross inequalities in educational provision which exist in, for example, the United States are uncommon in Australia which has always had a public commitment to equal provision (Blackburn 1991). Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that differences between schools do exist. Even within the public education sector, all schools are not equal. Critics further argue that even if we were to meet the ideal of equal educational provision, schools cannot be expected to overcome the external circumstances that adversely effect some learners. To hold all students to the same expectations is unfair if their opportunities and background are so different.

Porter counters these arguments about fairness rather poignantly, 'I know of no strategy for protecting a student who has had a poor education. Once that has

happened, the individual is in for a lifetime of penalties' (1994, p 432) and Willis asks rhetorically, 'Is it fair to leave school having apparently succeeded but not knowing much?' (1994, p 7).

Proponents of common outcomes consider that differential outcomes encourage differential expectation and streaming which together perpetuate and exacerbate inequalities (Wiggins 1991). They argue that 'what


accept is what you expect' (Rowe 1994, p 3) and reiterate the principle of high expectations for all, 'the futures of many students are compromised because the outcomes held for them are low or unclear.... some students — and some schools — are held to high standards while others are not' (O'Neil 1994, p 8). They consider that defining the same outcomes for all is particularly important for those students who traditionally have not been well served by schools. Rather than accepting, indeed expecting, differential outcomes from schools and from students, they argue, we should ensure that systems and schools are


held accountable for ensuring that the conditions necessary for student success exist in all schools. For McDonald (1993), the vision is clear:

What is wanted is a community of striving in which the standards of achievement are plainly visible and plainly applicable to all, but in which support, time and structure all vary

according to need. (p 485)

This is, of course, a rather tall order but a premise of OBE is that schools can make the difference and OBE claims to offer a model for doing so. As Fitzpatrick (1991) says of Arlington Heights District in which she teaches:

[W]e have stayed the course ... because of the power of our affirmations — affirmations of the potential of our students and affirmations of our ability to make a difference ... Today we remain optimistic and steadfast in our beliefs that all students can learn and that schools indeed control the conditions of success. (p 22)

And, indeed, there is considerable evidence from the United States of the success of OBE in school districts which have large proportions of 'disadvantaged students' (Evans & King 1994; Waters, Burger & Burger, 1995; Zlatos 1993). For example:

The achievement gap between Anglo and Hispanic students has decreased dramatically while the performance of both groups has improved.... Our data demonstrate that it is possible to achieve equity of education for all our children, without sacrificing educational quality. (Waters, Burger & Burger 1995, p 35)

Another criticism levelled at the notion of common curriculum generally, rather than OBE in particular, is that a common curriculum inevitably reflects the priorities,

concerns, experiences and history of the dominant culture or, at least, the more powerful members of the dominant culture. Undoubtedly this is true. OBE proponents, however, do not consider that common outcomes should imply

uniformity of curriculum, pedagogy, assessment or student work. Some hold strongly to the view that outcomes should be developed at the school or possibly school district level in order to reflect and accommodate local values and conditions (Sizer & Rogers 1993, Darling-Hammond 1994а). Others consider that outcomes developed at the state or large-system level ought to be written to enable the specifics of curriculum and pedagogy to reflect a diversity of people and practices, and students to demonstrate their achievement of the outcomes in a variety of ways (Simmons & Resnick 1993;

Willis 1995) albeit the underlying capability and the standard of expectation should • remain the same.

The OBE literature is rather silent on the matter of students with disabilities although there are some exceptions (e.g. Shriner, Ysseldyke, Thurlow & Honetschlager 1994).

We suggested earlier that outcomes describe broad underlying capabilities of which particular behaviours are regarded as evidence. It is probably in the case of students with disabilities that this distinction between underlying competence and particular behaviours becomes most obvious. Some students have disabilities which need not prevent them from achieving particular outcomes so long as the necessary

accommodations are made in the way in which they are expected to learn and the means through which they demonstrate the outcomes. For example, a student who does not have the manual dexterity to physically construct a 3-D model may

nevertheless use computer software to undertake quite analogous tasks and demonstrate the same planning, visualisation, geometric concepts and problem solving skills. Some students, however, will have disabilities which will prevent them from achieving particular outcomes albeit they may, with assistance or

modification, perform some of the tasks associated with that competence. Where the disability is demonstrably related to the outcome, the outcome may be considered


irrelevant or it may be modified. The difficulty is that while it may be unrealistic to expect all students to achieve some outcomes, it is difficult to be sure ahead of time which students they are and, indeed, which outcomes (Resnick 1995, oral

presentation). Low expectations are a considerable problem for the achievement of many students with disabilities. In general, OBE would see common outcomes apply as far as possible and 'students with disabilities ... afforded the opportunity to

demonstrate their progress towards these outcomes and achievement of skills that are important for their future' (Shriner et al 1994, p 40). The necessary accommodations would be made in order for 'disabled persons to be treated and judged, insofar as possible, by the same standards as other people' (Shriner et al p 41). Where significant modifications are made and the standards do change, however, this must be made explicit. To do otherwise would disservice all students particularly those with

disabilities who have demonstrated the outcomes fully but whose achievements may be disbelieved.

Finally, in response to assertions such as, 'It's just not realistic to expect the same from everyone' (Gandal 1995, p 20), OBE proponents reply that they do not claim that all students are alike or equally academically skilled but rather that all students have the right to engage in a curriculum which offers high quality intellectual tasks, all should be expected to produce high quality work and, with few exceptions, held to high standards (Wiggins 1991, McDonald 1993; Shriner et al 1994). Schools should be expected to do their part by ensuring that the outcomes students are expected to

achieve are worthwhile (there should be no jumping through hoops for the sake of it), that the time and conditions necessary for students' successful learning are provided and that the criteria by which their learning will be judged are open and accessible.

Students should be expected to do their part by actively engaging in learning and producing their best possible work.

Students do differ, in their talents and their interests, and students will work more and less well at different times. Notwithstanding the best efforts of schools to provide the opportunities every student needs to learn to a high standard, the level and quality of student learning will vary. The dilemma is clear:

Obviously some students will fall short of the highest goal, at least initially, and their progress must be noted or their motivation will dissipate. But if different levels of

accomplishment are established, the system may ultimately settle for too little once again.

(Porter 1994, p 433)

Approaches to addressing this matter will be considered in this next section.

The structure of programme outcomes

It is an obvious characteristic of a school system's exit outcomes that they occur at the end of some phase of the schooling process. In principle, achieving the exit outcomes is sufficient to graduate from secondary school or from the 'common years'.

Programme level outcomes, on the other hand, relate specifically to the school's programmes. They may occur at various stages in the schooling process and, indeed, they are intended to guide teaching and learning by providing a structure through which progress can be recognised.

Within each programme area, a number of general outcomes are decided upon and then interpreted into various levels perhaps called level outcomes, benchmarks or attainment targets. There are a number of ways of structuring such outcomes but they


Benchmark to be achieved by:

Gen. Outcome All students will acquire the skills to counteract the negative influ- ence of peer and societal pressures.

Grade 3 Differentiate be- tween positive and negative so- cial pressures at school.

Grade 5 Role play re- fusal skills as related to alco- hol/drug use and misbe- haviour.

Grade 8 Practice refusal skills in a vari- ety of situations (for example, pressure regard- ing illegal activ- ity, alcohol and sexual activity).

Grade 10 Identifyy ways to strengthen re- fusal skills that are judged to be most effective.

Grade 12 Identify situa- tions in different settings (for ex- ample, work- place, college) that will require the use of refusal skills.

level 4 level 4 level 4 level 3 level 3 level 3 level 2 level 2 level 2 level 1 level 1 level 1 grade 3 grade б . grade 9 outcomes outcomes outcomes

Performing beyond the expected standards set for the grade Performing within the expected range of standards set for the grade

Not yet performing within the expected range of standards

generally fall into two broad categories, the first describing outcomes for particular grades and the second describing outcomes in progressive levels.

Outcomes linked to key grades

In the first category, expected outcomes are linked to key grades. For example, one Oregon district identified a number of general outcomes for their guidance and

counselling programme. Each outcome was then 'interpreted ... into developmentally appropriate levels at grades 3, 5, 8, 10 and 12. All students are expected to achieve the benchmarks when they exit that particular grade level' (Haack 1994, p 34-35). Figure 1

provides an example.


This approach does not obviously allow for individual differences in maturity or learning rate and may not support the curriculum flexibility that OBE demands. In the US, some schools or systems address differences between students by retaining

students in a grade until they have achieved the outcomes. The educational research provides little support for this approach, indeed, the evidence is fairly consistent in indicating that students who are retained in grades below their age level perform less well that those who stay with their age cohort (Shepard & Smith 1990).

Cognisant of this problem, but also of the implications of continuing to promote children who are not achieving, the state of Kentucky, US, has introduced non-graded classes for the early childhood years with students moving to grade 4 when they are 'ready' as determined by their achievement of certain outcomes. This program is promoted as giving children 'the gift of time' and each child's readiness is decided by the review of a portfolio of their work collected over an extended period (Steffy 1993).

Other school communities address the same issue by building in the possibility of students at the target grades achieving at several levels. For example, the Common Curriculum Grades 1-9 published by the Ministry of Education, Ontario (1993) uses the structure shown in Figure 2 to describe expected outcomes.


A problem that can occur when structuring outcomes in this way is that it may not be


Gen. Outcome The student can organise data by listing, classifying, sequencing and grouping to generate and answer questions.

Level 1 Participate in classifying and sequencing objects or pic- tures.

Level 2 Contribute to deciding how to classify and se- quence data, ap- plying unam- biguous and fa- miliar criteria consistently.

Level ...

Classify, se- quence and tabu- late data to an- swer particular questions and vary the classi- fication to an- questions.

Level б Organise data in diagrams, tables and databases to help answer ques- tions and generate new ones, plan- ning class inter- vals and fields collaboratively and individually.

Level 7 ...

Compare, choose and use methods of organisation to suit the type of data and the questions asked.

clear how the levels at one grade relate to those at another grade. Is level 1 at grade б more or less advanced than level 3 at grade 3? On this matter, the documentation for Ontario simply says 'the levels do not represent a simple continuum — for example, level-three performance in Grade 3 is not equivalent to level-one performance in Grade б' (Ministry of Education and Training 1993, p 5). A student who achieves level 2 in grade б and level 1 at grade 9 may have regressed by comparison with peers. Has she or he nevertheless progressed individually, albeit more slowly than some other students? Also, is a student who achieves at, say, level 1 in grade б given the

opportunity to develop the learnings of level 2 and level 3 or does she or he 'move on regardless'. In an effort to overcome this difficulty in tracking the progress of

individual students over time, a second category of approaches to structuring programme level outcomes has emerged.

Outcomes described in terms of progressive levels of achievement

In the second category, outcomes are described for each of a series of progressive levels which are not tied to any particular grades and students are expected to achieve the levels at different times. Essentially, grade based differentiation of levels are rolled together into a progression of levels. This approach, often referred to as 'profiles', is based on the evidence that there is considerable overlap between the achievement of high achievers at lower grades and low achievers at higher grades (Brown 1991). Figure 3 provides an extract from the eight levels of the Australian Curriculum Profile for mathematics (Curriculum Corporation 1994).


In Figure 1 the question asked of a student's achievement is 'has she or he achieved the grade 5 outcomes?'. In Figure 3 it is 'what level has she or he achieved?'. In principle, structuring outcomes in progressive levels enables the monitoring of an individuals' personal growth over a period as well as their progress against an external standard or towards an agreed goal (Wiggins 1994). This does not completely overcome the matter of differences between students since students may produce high quality work on less advanced concepts or skills, and low quality work on more advanced concepts or skills. Some schools and systems therefore describe the same outcomes at each progressive level, but allow for perhaps two levels of performance on them:

'achieving the outcomes' and 'achieving the outcomes with credit'.

In principle, OBE demands that the sequences of learning area outcomes for each grade or each level should be conceptually linked to each other and to the desired endpoint of learning, forming a series of inclusive categories along a continuum rather than being discrete entities. That is, they should be structured like this:


Related documents

Performance Management Framework Outcome Based Management Framework Government Goal "Social and Environmental Responsibility: Ensuring that economic activity is managed in a

Responses were categorised into at least one of the following categories based on keywords and themes: • Education indicated that video games are a source of information or teach