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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?

What's different about academic standards?

Academic standards are public, written statements of expectations.

Good teachers have always had standards for their students but only they knew what they were. Parents and administrators did not have any way of knowing what was required of students or whether standards were applied differently to different groups of children or even to different individuals within a class.

In standards-based learning, academic standards are written in published documents. Parents, students, and teachers can ask whether their school is helping students reach the agreed-upon benchmarks: Does the school offer algebra in grade 8? Can students achieve the science standards with the lab equipment in the school? Do students write enough in their classes to achieve the writing standards?

Another difference with the use of written standards is that they apply to all students -- from the college-bound valedictorian to the special education student. Supporters of standards claim that without them, schools become a selection and sorting system: 20% of students always do well, and the rest can find manual labor that doesn't require much educational achievement.

Supporters of standards, however, seek to help 100% of students operate in a world in which different kinds of jobs are created all the time. Five years ago, most people didn't know that the Web existed, let alone that in 1999, there would be thousands of jobs for "Web masters."

Because we don't have "standard" students, it will take some students longer than others to achieve the required proficiency. Standards supporters believe that given the right opportunities, every child has the ability to learn. It is not the case that some kids will succeed while others are doomed despite the efforts of educators. Those who use standards want to move from a system that believes the inputs are fixed (i.e., kids either can do it, or they can't) and the outcomes vary as a result (those who can, make it and the others drop out), to one where the inputs vary (some need more time and different teaching) and the outputs are fixed (everyone meets the standard).

In the nine months of a school year, students are generally expected to learn a fixed amount -- if they don't, then they missed it. In a standards-based system, however, the standards are fixed, but students can take a longer or shorter time to learn what they need to reach them. They can't go past the benchmark points 1 (usually grades 4, 8, and 12) without demonstrating the knowledge and skills written in the standards documents.



Though the educational bureaucracy is notoriously slow to adopt large-scale changes, some big-city systems like Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C., are already providing summer school sessions so that students who need extra help can get it and move past the benchmarks.


Workshop: Teaching to Academic Standards
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