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How do I start using standards?
What are the challenges I will face?
How do I assess students' progress?
How does technology complement this approach?
How do I introduce standards to the parents and community?


Feature

Dr. J. Arthur Jones of the organization Quality Education for Minorities talks about whether standards can succeed.


What are the challenges I will face?


The challenges of standards are a consequence of the fact that standards-based education is a major shift in the way schools do business. There are both external and internal challenges as a result. Which challenges are harder to overcome will depend on your circumstances and your response to them.

External challenges include the following:

. Too many standards? A common confusion -- there are too many standards to be met in too short a time, and it doesn't seem easy to prioritize. Meet the challenge by using your expertise to focus on what you know are the important things for students to know and be able to do. Check with the assessments being used in your state and district and align your standards with their specifications. Also look at sensible discussions like those cited in a recent publication by the The Boston Plan for Excellence 1.

1.

. Too many new terms? Content standards, performance standards, rubrics, benchmarks. Yes, we know the feeling. New ideas need new language. Worse, people use the same words to mean different things. "Benchmarks," for example, can mean the substandards printed under the main standard, or the stages -- usually grades 4, 8, and 12 -- in which standards must be met. What to do to meet this challenge? Read about standards (see the book list in Resources), and talk about them with your colleagues until you reach a working consensus for your school and district. The terms may also be too broad for some teachers. There may need to be discussion about grade-level expectations while meeting standards. For example, if the student has to write a book review, the teacher needs to be able to guide the student to meet grade expectations.

. Students: Many resist (usually only at first) being asked to redo work until it meets the standards. One particular challenge, for example, is high-school math whizzes who are asked for the first time to explain their mathematical reasoning in writing. To meet that challenge, teachers have to insist on using writing to explain mathematics from kindergarten upwards. For current math whizzes who did not benefit from such instruction, explain to them that using writing will help them with college work and their verbal skills, which they will need someday, e.g. for state and city or Advanced Placement tests, etc.

. Parents: Some would like school to feel, look, and seem for their children just the way it did for them. These are often the most affluent parents, used to success for themselves and their children. They want to be assured that their children will get into Harvard or Stanford. These parents want to see the same old report-card categories, with As and Bs, not 4, 3, 2, 1, "advanced," or "proficient."

Other parents who themselves were educated poorly may find it difficult to support their children's rigorous homework, and may even complain that standards-based work is "too hard" for their children.

How can you work with parents on both issues? Talk about standards, explain them, and show parents what they are and why they are important. One school district in Texas has a telephone voice-mail message for each classroom, explaining to parents what standards the children in that class are working on and what they should expect. A word to districts: including parents in every aspect of standards, from setting them to implementing them, is good insurance against parent resistance. Provide weekend retreats, newsletters, or workshops to help educate parents about standards.

. District administrators: Many administrators don't realize that resources must be aligned with standards. Textbooks, for example, must be scrutinized to make sure that the exercises included are rigorous enough. When we were using the SIP process on textbooks recently in a Midwestern school district, one teacher looked at a K-3 book and said: "This makes no sense at all." But the district had just adopted the whole textbook series -- and standards for promotion! It's the district administrators' responsibility to support teachers with textbooks, materials, and information that makes it possible for them to teach to the standards. That support includes professional development and time to converse and share ideas as well.

. Teachers' unions: Some unions present a challenge when they perceive a threat in the move to standards-based schooling. In fact, standards-based work is teachers' path to true professionalism. They now have measurable goals -- student attainment of standards -- to aim for and can use the full range of their expertise to help the students reach those goals.

Internal challenges:

Your own belief system is the key internal challenge. When we explain that standards are for all students, we frequently get the response, "My students can't do this." If you look at your present class and see students who can't read, although they are in grades 4, 5, or 6 -- or even grade 9 -- your response is understandable. But in a standards-based system, those students shouldn't get out of your class until they can read. (No, it isn't your responsibility alone, and of course it can't be done in the nine months of the present school year.)

It may be necessary to reexamine assumptions that you brought into the profession not only from your training but even from your own experience in school as a student. The major assumption was often that school was a place for selecting and sorting -- that some students can, and most can't, and it was the school's job to identify the winners. Another assumption was that school really wasn't going to make much difference, since the students' background -- their parents' income, education level, and interest in their children's success -- was the determining factor.


Feature

School administrators and teachers talk about how teachers' attitudes are crucial in the adoption of standards.
This latter assumption became widespread in education after the famous Coleman Report in 1966, which basically concluded "It's all family" after examining what led to student success. However -- and this is really important -- recent research modifies this view considerably. Data collected in Tennessee, Texas, North Carolina, and Boston show that teachers are the single most important factor in students' success. Of course family background plays a part, but good teaching can often override it. For more information on the research, see the Resources section.

Some places where disadvantaged children are meeting standards include Mission Independent School District, El Paso Independent School District, and Ysleta School District in Texas, where schools with about 90 percent poverty rates have the same rate of success on the Grade 4 Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) as schools in more affluent suburbs. At Washington Elementary School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the scores on the Pennsylvania state test went up 90 points after the teachers worked for one year in SIP workshops. Wrigley Elementary School in poverty-ridden Appalachia was the third-highest performing elementary school in Kentucky on the state test in 1999. The principal of Wrigley says: "For these kids, what goes on between teachers and students is what matters. I tell my teachers unequivocally that if children can get through our doors, we can teach them to read. They may have no running water and no electricity, but I don't believe it has a thing to do with whether they can learn to read and write."

You know best what will help you overcome the internal challenge of your own belief system. Probably the most effective influence will be success. When you see students at their desks rewriting and reworking, trying to meet the standards embodied in the scoring guide on the classroom wall -- that they have worked with you to write -- you will begin to believe in your power to give them a future.




Workshop: Teaching to Academic Standards
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