Standards-based education reform is a system in which instruction, assessment, grading and reporting are based on how well students demonstrate their understanding and mastery of the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn in the course of their schooling.
Academic learning standards must be research-based and identify the essential core of learning for all students. They have to be clear, concisely written descriptions of what students need to know and be able to do. In addition, they need to be appropriate for each grade level and lead to the enhancement of a student’s capacity to learn new information, solve problems, use research methods and ask questions across content areas.
Knowing and understanding the learning goals should inform text selection, unit planning and lesson design. Looking backwards from the expected end result and how it will be assessed lets educators know what is essential and what students need to achieve. In a standards-based system, instruction in any learning environment should be defined by what students are expected to know and be able to do by the end of the lesson or a specific timeframe.
In such a system, all instructional components — teaching, curricula, professional development and assessments — are aligned to content standards.
• The standards must be coherent and organized around essential ideas, skills and strategies.
• Curricula should provide teachers and students with a guide on how to reach proficiency that allows students to acquire and extend knowledge and skills along the way.
• Professional development needs to be designed to help teachers move students toward mastery of the standards.
• Assessments must be based on the standards so that students can demonstrate their ability to complete tasks that draw on and measure their knowledge of the content and their ability to apply what they know to new situations.
It is important to note that academic learning standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach. The standards are not meant to serve as a curriculum guide. Local school districts must use the standards in the development and alignment of the curriculum to make sure that their students are on target to achieve grade-level expectations.
Effective standards-based practices encompass more than just knowing the state and district standards and following a recipe that requires displaying standards or objectives in a classroom, referencing standards in lesson plans, “covering” a curriculum, or following a textbook that claims to be standards-aligned. Standards-based practices means that educators are consistently teaching using activities, lessons and units that are designed to ensure all students learn the grade-level expectations that lead to mastery of the standards.
Successful implementation of standards-based education practices allows educators to create a cycle of improvement for student learning, with a focus on effective teaching and learning practices, that goes through a continuous cycle of planning, instruction, reflection and adjustment.
It is important to note that academic learning standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach.
What is expected of students must be clearly articulated. This means that districts must develop a comprehensive curriculum based on the academic learning standards
Maintaining alignment with the standards while planning instructional activities, as well as in developing assessment, is essential and should include appropriate and meaningful activities that engage students in the learning process and incorporate higher-order thinking skills.
To ensure that students are learning the information, concepts and skills identified in district curricula, learning has to be regularly monitored through a variety of measures such as authentic tasks, formative assessments, performance, projects, portfolios and observations. These measures must be aligned to the achievement targets, accurately reflect student learning, provide usable results and timely feedback, and allow students the opportunity to monitor their own progress.
The general goal of standards-based instruction is to ensure that students are acquiring the knowledge and skills that are believed to be essential for success in a K-12 education, post-secondary education, careers and adult life. If students do not meet the expected academic standards, they should receive additional instruction, time and academic support to help them achieve proficiency or meet the learning expectations that are described in the standards.
Being standards-based means that every teacher, in every classroom, every day, through this continuous teaching/ learning cycle, ensures students learn all standards and associated concepts and skills to mastery. In every district, this takes focus and fidelity to a relentless cycle of teaching and learning along with hard work, persistence, and strategic use of time and resources.
Dr. Amy Fratz is an NJEA associate director of Professional Development and Instructional Issues.