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What are academic standards?
What's different about academic standards?
What do standards have to do with my classroom?
How have standards developed since they began in the early 1990s?
Another perspective
What are the benefits of academic standards?
How can standards help students to learn better?
What do critics of standards have to say?


How have standards developed since they began in the early 1990s?

When Ruth Mitchell, 1 this workshop's expert advisor, does live workshops on standards, teachers often ask, "Where did these standards come from?" "Who developed them?" She answers: "You did." Since they personally don't remember ever having seen them before, they look blank. But she means that teachers developed standards, by and large.

1.

The first standards to be developed were mathematics standards, written by members of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). (All math teachers can become members of the NCTM.) To write the standards, the NCTM formed committees of teachers and university professors of mathematics and math education. They then circulated drafts of the standards to any member of the NCTM who wished to read and comment on them. The process of writing, circulating, rewriting, and recirculating took eight years, until the NCTM standards were published in 1989. The NCTM recently revised their standards in "Standards 2000."

Other academic disciplines followed the same model as the NCTM, but they were aided by federal funding. At the 1989 educational summit, Congress adopted eight educational goals (see the Resources section for more information) and provided funding for the development of standards in major academic disciplines. Professional associations submitted proposals to write standards in history, geography, science, the arts, and civics. Other academic disciplines, including English/language arts, used their own association funds to develop standards. All of the documents went through rigorous public review, and at least one of them -- the history standards -- was severely criticized by public leaders.

Because the United States is a country where education policy is set mostly by states and local schools rather than by the federal government, most states also embarked on their own standards-setting processes. In most cases, there isn't much variation from the national standards, although in mathematics, Virginia, California, and Arizona rejected the NCTM standards and wrote "traditional" standards, meaning an emphasis on skills and mathematical procedures rather than on problem-solving and the ability to understand mathematical theory.

On the state and local levels, standards tend to be written more specifically than they were at the national level. Standards are now often written at grade levels as well as at major points such as grades 4, 8, and 12. They have also become more specific in content, so that they sometimes seem like lists of objectives.

Standards are currently the staple of educational conversation. Textbook and test publishers claim that their products are aligned with national and state standards. States are trying to align curriculum frameworks and assessments to their standards, sometimes without much success: it is impossible for a norm-referenced test 2 to align with standards. Norm-referenced tests tell you how well students achieve compared to each other, but standards mean that student progress must be compared to the standard, not to how well or poorly others do.

2.

Difference Between Standards-Based and Norm-Referenced Systems
Believe some students are naturally smarter than others. Believe virtually all students can "get smart" through effort.
Content subject matter varies with different groups of students. Content subject matter is the same for all groups of students.
Assessments compare what students know to what other students know. Assessments compare what students know to standards and benchmarks.
No objective criteria to deploy resources -- students who need the most often get the least. Resources are deployed as needed for all students to meet standards -- students who need more get more.
Professional development episodic -- one-time workshops. Professional development focuses on improving instruction so all students meet standards.

Standards haven't yet penetrated much into teacher training, however. Schools of education are only slowly beginning to realize that their graduates will likely have to learn to teach to standards wherever they work.

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Workshop: Teaching to Academic Standards
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