Educational Standards

Why Do We Need Standards?

We need standards to ensure that all students, no matter where they live, are prepared for success in post-secondary education and the workforce. Common standards will help ensure that students are receiving a high quality education consistently, from school to school and state to state. Common standards will provide a greater opportunity to share experiences and best practices within and across states that will improve our ability to best serve the needs of students.

Standards do not tell teachers how to teach, but they do help teachers figure out the knowledge and skills their students should have so that teachers can build the best lessons and environments for their classrooms. Standards also help students and parents by setting clear and realistic goals for success. Standards are a first step in providing young people with a high-quality education that will prepare them for success in college and work. Of course, standards are not the only thing that is needed for our children’s success, but they provide an accessible road map for teachers, parents, and students.

Standards are also a criteria to judge quality: the quality of what students should know and what they are able to do; the quality of the programs and systems involved with the standards; the quality of teaching; and the quality of assessment. Standards allow everyone to move in the same direction and have a shared goal. They help to chart the course of the future and brings us to a shared vision of excellence.

Skeptics Argue . . .

The Brooking Institution points out that there is reason to be skeptical about the correlation between the level of content standards and the level of achievement. Sure, a state like California, which routinely ranks very in ratings of its standards, has been reporting strong gains in achievement. Meanwhile, though, some states with relatively low standards, e.g., New Jersey perform competitively on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) against states with high standards such as Massachusetts. Their analysis parallels findings in a 2008 study by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Organization of Standards

Educational standards are often categorized or organized into smaller sets of standards. For example, there may be standards for teaching, professional development, assessment, content, educational programs, and educational systems.
Teaching Standards
Effective teaching is at the heart of education and therefore often teaching standards are presented first. Effective teaching requires or involves the following:
  • The planning of inquiry-based programs.
  • The actions taken to guide and facilitate student learning.
  • The assessments made of teaching and student learning.
  • The development of environments that enable students to learn the content.
  • The creation of communities of learning
  • The planning and development of the school science program.
Professional Development Standards
These standards represent a vision and need for the development of professional skills and knowledge of teachers. These standards focus on the following:
  • The learning of content through inquiry.
  • The integration of knowledge about the content with knowledge about learning, pedagogy, and students.
  • The development of the understanding and ability for lifelong learning.
  • The coherence and integration of professional development programs.
Assessment Standards
Assessment standards provide the citeria on how to judge the quality of assessment practices. The include the following:
  • The consistency of assessments with the decisions they are designed to inform.
  • The assessment of both achievement and opportunity to learn the content.
  • The match between the technical quality of the data collected and the consequences of the actions taken on the basis of those data.
  • The fairness of assessment practices.
  • The soundness of inferences made from assessments about student achievement and opportunity to learn.
Content Standards
Within each content area (mathematics, science, English, etc.) there are particular standards on what subjects students should know. The following are the content standards from the National Science Education Standards:
  • Unifying concepts and processes in science.
  • Science as inquiry.
  • Physical science.
  • Life science.
  • Earth and space science.
  • Science and technology.
  • Science in personal and social perspective.
  • History and nature of science.
Education Program Standards
These standards describe the conditions necessary for quality teaching programs.
  • The consistency of the school program with the other standards and across grade levels.
  • The inclusion of all content standards in a variety of curricula that are developmentally appropriate, interesting, relevant to student's lives, organized around inquiry, and connected with other school subjects.
  • The provision of appropriate and sufficient resources to all students.
  • The provision of equitable opportunities for all students to learn the standards.
  • The development of communities that encourage, support, and sustain teachers.
The System Standards
The standards consist of the criteria for judging the overall performance of the educational system. The following seven areas are considered:
  • The congruency of policies that influence science education with the teaching, professional development, assessment, content, and program standards.
  • The coordination of science education policies within and across agencies, institutions, and organizations.
  • The continuity of science education policies over time.
  • The provision of resources to support science education policies.
  • The equity embodied in science education policies.
  • The possible unanticipated effects of policies on science education.
  • The responsibility of individuals to achieve the new vision of science education portrayed in the standards.

How Educational Standards Are Determined

Each state is free to set its own educational standards. Around the country, then, expectations for what students are expected to learn sometimes differs drastically. Meanwhile, most other developed countries have long ago set national educational standards.

Search for specific state, grade level, and subject standards here.

Debate and Thoughts on Determing Standards
The development of state and national standards has been in the works for many years--it is a constant work of progress. It is unrealistic to think that standards can be or have been created and implemented perfectly. Several countries throughout the world have taken decades to develop and implement their standards.

In developing the standards, many believe the role of the ones developing the standards should be to recognize, discover, and explain the very best standards rather than trying to invent new and untried ones. They must identify what is required for successful participation in the work force, higher education, and civic life. Additionally, many believe that the ones actually developing the standards should not be exclusively teachers and scholars. Instead, members of the public such as journalists, doctors, publishers, engineers, lawyers, civic leaders and concerned members of society should be involved in the writing process as well. Third, there is a strong belief by some that standards documents should be restricted in their length. Fourth, the standards should be only directed at providing regulations and guidelines for what students need to learn in order to be successful in academic and professional settings beyond the classroom--they should not be used as stages to lecture the field on how the subject should be taught or demand for more resources. Fifth, many believe the standards should be publicallly reviewed and events should be implemented to get people together to discuss the specific complexities. Finally, many believe that the standards, once developed, should be field-tested in several districts or states for a minimum period of time before being implemented full scale.

Standards-Based Teaching

Standards-based instruction allows teachers and students to be on the same page by specifying how teachers and students will meet their education goals, including specific concepts, order, or instructional materials. In standards-based instruction, standards delineate what matters, provide clarity and a fixed point of reference for students and teachers, guide instruction so that it is focused on student learning, provide a common language to have conversations, help ensure equal educational opportunities, assist in identifying struggling students, and meet federal guidelines.

For some teachers, curriculum has become a prescribed set of academic standards, instructional pacing has become a race against a clock to cover the standards, and the sole goal of teaching has been reduced to raising student test scores on a single test. Teachers feel as though they are torn in opposing directions: They are admonished to attend to student differences, but they must ensure that every student becomes competent in the same subject matter and can demonstrate the competencies on an assessment that is differentiated neither in form nor in time constraints.

Several studies have shown that using standards alligned curriculum as the sole means of meeting the standards (and not having an opportunity to consider deeply the higher expectations that the state framework describes for their students) results in many problems. For example, teachers who were not provided with instruction in standards based teaching and lesson planning ended up using too many standards, using the wrong standard for a lesson, using a standard for the wrong grade level, or the activity/lesson that was implemented did not elicit performances related to the chosen standard. Therefore, this concludes teachers need professional development in planning and implementing standards--the standards alone do not provide enough guidance.
Negative Examples
The following examples are negative examples of standards-based teaching:
    • In one standards-driven district, primary grade teachers attended a staff-development session that they had requested and in which they had high interest. The staff developer asked them to list some concepts that they taught so that the session would be linked to what went on in their classrooms. When—even with coaching and examples—no one was able to name the concepts they taught, the staff developer asked for the topics they taught. More awkward silence followed. A few teachers said that they sometimes took a day or two to talk about holidays, such as Halloween, Christmas, or Kwanza, because young students were excited about special occasions. Other teachers explained that they no longer taught units or topics (and certainly not concepts). Their entire curriculum had become a list of skills that students learned out of context of any meaning or utility—except that the test was coming, and all 6- through 8-year-olds were expected to perform.
    • A highly successful elementary school was started two decades ago to serve a student population that speaks more than 25 languages and whose homes are often marked by economic stress. The librarian in the school recently remarked,This has always been the best place in the world to teach. The students have loved it. Their parents have trusted it. Our students have done well. The teachers have always been excited to come to work. It has been a place of energy and inspired teaching. In the last two years [since the inception of a standards-based program and high-stakes testing], I've watched us become what we were created to avoid. We are telling instead of teaching. We fight to find time to reach out to the kids. Joy in classrooms has been replaced by fear that is first felt by the teachers and then by the students. We're trying hard to keep alive what we believe in, but I'm not sure we can.
Positive Examples
The following examples are positive examples of standards-based teaching:
    • Science teachers in one small district delineated the key facts, concepts, principles, and skills of their discipline for K–12. Having laid out the framework, they examined the state-prescribed standards for science and mapped them for K–12. They found that the standards in their state did a pretty good job of reflecting the facts and skills of science but did a poor job of making explicit the concepts and principles of science. With the two frameworks in front of them, the teachers could fill in gaps—and more important, could organize their curriculum in ways that were coherent and manageable. Their work helped their colleagues see the big picture of science instruction for K–12 over time, organize instruction conceptually, and teach with the essential principles of science in mind. The result was a district-wide science curriculum that made better sense to teachers and students alike, helped students think like scientists, reduced the teachers' sense of racing to cover disjointed information, and still attended to prescribed standards.
    • In an elementary classroom, a teacher organized many of her standards around three key concepts—connections, environments, and change—and their related principles; for example, living things are changed by and change their environments. She used them to study history, science, language arts, and sometimes mathematics. Although she generally taught each of the three subjects separately, she helped students make links among them; she created activities for the students that called for reading skills in social studies, for example, and social studies skills in science. That approach, she said, allowed everyone to work with the same big ideas and skills in a lesson while she could adjust materials, activities, and projects for varied readiness levels, diverse interests, and multiple modes of learning. Bringing the students together for class discussions was no problem, she reflected, because everyone's work focused on the essentials—even though students might get to those essentials in different ways. "It took me some time to rethink the standards and how I taught them," she recalled. But I feel as if I'm a better teacher. I understand what I'm teaching better, and I certainly have come to understand the students I teach more fully. I no longer see my curriculum as a list to be covered, and I no longer see my students as duplicates of one another.

Examples of Educational Standards
WI grade 6th standard for language arts:
Standard B (Writing) Students in Wisconsin will write clearly and effectively to share information and knowledge, to influence and persuade, to create and entertain.: Understand the function of various forms, structures, and punctuation marks of standard American English and use them appropriately in communications.: Use correct tenses to indicate the relative order of events

IL grade 2 standard for math:
Stage A - Mathematics: 9B - Students who meet the standard can identify, describe, classify and compare relationships using points, lines, planes, and solids. (Connections between and among multiple geometric figures): 1. Identify objects that are the same shape.

CA 10th grade standard for science:
6.b. - Students know how to analyze changes in an ecosystem resulting from changes in climate, human activity, introduction of nonnative species, or changes in population size.

FL 1st grade standard for social studies:
Strand B: People, Places, and Environments [Geography]: Standard 1: The student understands the world in spatial terms.: The student determines the absolute and relative location of people, places, and things.: 2. knows the locations of the four hemispheres and selected countries on a map and globe.

Standards for Teaching Proficiency in Foreign Languages

The American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) is a national organization which was created in 1996 to develop a unified, national set of standards for the teaching of foreign languages. ACTFL developed a set of five major standards. These standards are applicable to all foreign languages and have formed the basis of many state and district foreign language standards. In addition, ACTFL's National Standards for Foreign Language Learning has been used to allow students from non-English backgrounds to continue furthering proficiency skills in their native language.

National Standards for Foreign Language Learning:

1. Communication:
- Students understand and interpret written and spoken language across various topics ACTFL_Standards_logo.gif
- Students present information on a variety of topics in the foreign language to an audience
- Students engage in conversations, express emotions, obtain information, etc.
2. Cultures:
- Students understand the relationship between practices and perspectives of culture studied
- Students demonstrate an understanding of the culture studied
3. Connections:
- Students reinforce and further knowledge of other disciplines through foreign language
- Students recognize distinct viewpoints of the culture studied
4. Comparisons:
- Students compare the concepts of the foreign language and their own to understand the nature of language
- Students understand the concepts of culture through comparing the ideas and beliefs of the culture studied and their own
5. Communities:
- Students use the foreign language both within and outside of the school setting
- Students demonstrate life-long learning through using the foreign language for personal enjoyment and enrichment

No Child Left Behind, a move toward accountability through state standards--led by the federal governmentno-child-left-behind080510.jpg

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, also known as “NCLB”, is a US federal law that was originally proposed by President George W. Bush in 2001. The legislation funds a number of federal programs aiming at improving the performance of U.S. schools by increasing the standards of accountability for states, school districts, and schools, as well as providing parents more flexibility in choosing which schools their children will attend. Additionally, it promotes an increased focus on reading and math. The intent of NCLB is that all children will meet state academic achievement standards to reach their full potential through improved programs.

The Four Pillars of NCLB
    • Stronger accountability for results
    • More freedom for states and communities
    • Proven education methods
    • More choices for parents

Stronger Accountability for Results
Under No Child Left Behind, states are working to close the achievement gap and make sure all students, including those who are disadvantaged, achieve academic proficiency. Annual state and school district report cards inform parents and communities about state and school progress. Schools that do not make progress must provide supplemental services, such as free tutoring or after-school assistance; take corrective actions; and, if still not making adequate yearly progress after five years, make dramatic changes to the way the school is run.
More Freedom for States and Communities
Under No Child Left Behind, states and school districts have unprecedented flexibility in how they use federal education funds. This allows districts to use funds for their particular needs, such as hiring new teachers, increasing teacher pay, and improving teacher training and professional development.
Proven Education Methods
No Child Left Behind puts emphasis on determining which educational programs and practices have been proven effective through rigorous scientific research. Federal funding is targeted to support these programs and teaching methods that work to improve student learning and achievement.
More Choices for Parents
Parents of children in low-performing schools have new options under No Child Left Behind. In schools that do not meet state standards for at least two consecutive years, parents may transfer their children to a better-performing public school, including a public charter school, within their district.

Supporters of NCLB agree with the mandate for accountability to educational standards, and believe emphasis on test results will improve the quality of public education for all students.
Proponents also believe that NCLB initiatives will further democratize U.S. education, by setting standards and providing resources to schools, regardless of wealth, ethnicity, disabilities or language spoken.

Opponents of NCLB, which includes all major teachers' unions, allege that the act hasn't been effective in improving education in public education, especially high schools, as evidenced by mixed results in standardized tests since NCLB's 2002 inception. Opponents also claim that standardized testing, which is the heart of NCLB accountability, is deeply flawed and biased for many reasons, and that stricter teacher qualifications have exacerbated the nationwide teacher shortage, not provided a stronger teaching force. Some critics believe that the federal government has no constitutional authority in the education arena, and that federal involvement erodes state and local control over education of their children.

In this video, Zhao, a university professor, argues for giving kids room to innovate by following their passions, not subscribing to a set of rules and interests dictated to them from the outside.

No Child Left Behind and Global Competitiveness from New Learning Institute on Vimeo.

A Move Toward National Standards--led by the States


The nation’s governors and state school chiefs released in June 2010 a new set of academic standards, their final recommendations for what students should master in English and math as they move from the primary grades through high school graduation. These Common Core State Standards are a set of standards that align with college and career-oriented expectations. Such national standards are seen as a way to ensure that children in all states will have access to a similar education — and that financially strapped state governments do not have to spend limited resources on developing their own standards and tests.

The standards were developed by delegates from the states themselves, not the federal government. Texas and Alaska said they did not want to participate in developing the standards. And Virginia has made it known that it does not plan to adopt the standards. In some states, standards may rise; in others they may fall:

Graphic Source: Rich Clabaugh, The Christian Science Monitor


A July, 2010, installment of the New York Times regular "Room for Debate" discussion forum makes it clear that there are widely varying views among scholars, policy wonks, educators, and others on the possible effects of the accelerating movement toward national standards.

Who will benefit?

    • Michael Goldstein, founder of MATCH Charter Public School in Boston, recognizes that his endorsement of the move toward national standards will not be popular in his own school where most are content with the results the state's high standards are already garnering. While he understands their reluctance to change what is already working, he expects there to be a tremendous upside for at-risk students everywhere who will benefit from the collaboration encouraged by matching standards that can be met with similar curricula. In other words, it works here. It may very well work for you, too, since we have the same standards. Goldstein does, however, concede that there is reason to be wary that there will be those fighting for weak standards and others fighting to advance political agendas through content standards.
    • Alfie Kohn, author of numerous books including //What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated?// and //No Contest: The Case Against Competition//, warns that uniformity will hurt equity if teachers feel they are not allowed to create lessons consonant with their particular students' needs. He worries that the standards are overly concerned with shaping efficient workers, while they do little to promote critical thinking and a passion for learning. He asserts that rigor and excellence are not the necessarily the same thing, and it is excellence that better serves the broader good. To those who accept standardized testing as a measurement of real achievement, he points out that "while most high-scoring countries have centralized education systems, so do most of the lowest-scoring countries."
    • Sandra Stotsky, education reform professor at the University of Arkansas, laments that the standards are not ambitious enough and will actually dampen gains only recently made in making math and science standards more competitive with others around the world.
    • Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and author of Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy and All Together Now : Creating Middle-Class Schools through Public School Choice, sees standards offering great benefits to teachers and by extension their students. He writes, ". . .a strong set of common standards would free teachers from both writing the script and performing it. They could, like actors, focus on interpretation and delivery."
    • Neil McCluskey, associate director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute and author of Feds in the Classroom How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples and Compromises American Education, finds standards and accountability lacking all too often in schools. In his mind, these are indeed problems that need fixing. Standards, however, whether they are developed at the state, or even more troubling at the federal level, are not the answer as long they are written by government officials. Effective standards and real accountability will emerge naturally if only we place schools in the free market where schools eager to compete with each other will improve the educational product for the most possible people.
    • Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy at UC-Berkeley, worries about an overemphasis on standardized knowledge disconnected from ways of using it and ways of making something new with it. Yes, he concedes, there are countries with national standards that boast high performance on tests, but these same countries, he points out, are also realizing they must remediate systems that appear to also stifle ingenuity.

Read the Common Core State Standards for yourself:
English Language Arts Standards
Mathematics Standards


Department of Public Instruction-Wisconsin Standards

In 2010 the state of Wisconsin has opted to join 30 other states in following the Common Core State Standards. Wisconsin hopes to have the new standards in place and ready for computer-based standardized testing for the 2014-1015 school year, though preliminary tests and assessments related to these new standards began in 2010. Unfortunately, the Common Core State Standards are only available for English language arts and mathematics. At the national level, however, there is the hope to expand these standards to science and social studies as well.

The Wisconsin DPI provides a current set of academic standards for a wide variety of subject areas on its standards website. Here are some quick links to subject specific standards:
English Language Arts
Mathematics DPIlogo.jpg
Social Studies
World Languages
Technology Education
Information and Technology Literacy

Educational Technology Standards

Writing educational technology standards is a difficult process. Technology and technology tools are constantly changing. The software and programs used today are likely to be out-dated in only a few years. The challenge, therefore, lies in identifying the key skills that will be needed for successful entry into the workforce. In order to develop lasting technology standards here in the United States, leading education professionals teamed with the International Society for Technology in Education. The team was able to create a set of National Education Technology Standards (NETS). NETS, a four part project with the first part introduced in June of 1998, is comprised of six main categories. These categories include:
    1. Basic operations and concepts
    2. Social, ethical, and human issues
    3. Technology productivity tools nets_align.jpg
    4. Technology communication tools
    5. Technology research tools
    6. Technology problem solving and decision making tools

Along with the six categories, NETS also includes benchmarks for achievement among the four major target grade ranges (PK-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12). Because educators for the United States worked so closely with the International Society for Technology in Education, NETS very closely resembles global educational technology standards.


International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards:

According to ISTE, technology literacy is growing in importance both in the world of work and the world of education. As a result, educators must take the lead in terms of demonstrating the skills and knowledge of the digital-age. The role of technology is changing. Therefore the role of the teacher must also change. In response to the increased need for technology literacy, ISTE developed a set of National Educational Technology (NET) standards for both teachers and students. ISTE-NET standards are unique in comparison to other standards because they are applicable to all content are-not just math or writing-and to all student levels. ISTE updated NET standards for students in 2007 and NET standards for teachers in 2008.


ISTE-NETS for Teachers:
    • Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity:
- Engage students in solving real-world, authentic problems
- Model creative and innovative thinking
- Model collaborative knowledge
    • Design and Develop Digital-Age Learning Experiences and Assessments:
- Incorporate technology tools into classroom activities
- Give students a variety of formative and summative assessments
- Customize and personalize lesson plans so that students can take a more active role in the learning process
    • Model Digital-Age Working and Learning:
- Demostrate mastery of technology systems and transfer of knowledge to other technological tools
- Collaborate with other teachers, students, and the community to help support student success
- Use digital-media to convey new ideas, as well as show effective use of technological tools
    • Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility:
- Advocate and teach legal, ethical, and safe technology practices
- Provide equitable access to technology tools
- Engage students with colleagues and other students from different cultures using communication technologies
    • Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership:
- Continue to explore creative educational uses for technology
- Effectively evaluate and research new and existing technology tools


ISTE-NETS for Students:
    • Creativity and Innovation:
- Demonstrate novel thinking through the use of technology
    • Communication and Collaboration:
- Collaborate from a distance to increase individual and group learning
    • Research and Information Fluency:
- Locate, evaluate, and process information and the effectiveness of digital tools
    • Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making:
- Identify and manage authentic problems to derive a solution using technological means
    • Digital Citizenship:
- Practice and understand legal, ethical, and safe technology behavior
    • Technology Operations and Concepts:
- Understand technology concepts and operations and transfer that knowledge to new technologies

ISTE Lesson Ideas

Phone in Your Field Trip: With Picasa Web Albums students and teachers can collect photos from field trips and email from a smart phone to a class album. This lesson incorporates the Technology Operations and Concepts standard for students, and the Model Digital-Age Work and Learning standard for teachers.

Collaborative Art Exercise: Challenge students with an exercise in art, communication and collaboration by teaming them up with a Google Spreadsheet to "decorate". This lesson aligns with the Communication and Collaboration standard for students and the Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity standard for teachers.

Use Google Forms for Feedback: Students and teachers can create instant feedback forms to collect survey information or analyze data in class lessons or to use as an evaluation tool. Using Google Forms for reflection and feedback incorporates the Technology Operations and Concepts standard for students and the Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership standard for teachers.

The Unions' Views on Standards

According to the American Federation of Teachers, the union believes " that strong academic standards are essential if we are to dramatically improve student achievement and to gain public confidence in our education system." They claim that standards focus the unions collective energy and resources, help gurantee that all students are exposed to rigorous academic curriculum, helps everyone in the education system expect more rigorous learning, and helps ensure continuity of academic experiences from grade to grade.

The American Federation of Teachers created a report called Sizing up State Standard 2008. According to the report, they found only one state in the United States, Virginia, that met their criteria for strong standards in all levels and subjects. Among the states with lowest percentage of strong standards (0%) were Wisconsin, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania. The study also showed that there was variance in the quality of standards between subjects and grade levels and that most standarsd failed because they were repeated, clustered, vague, or missing content. Essentially the AFT believes there is a hole in state educational standards.

The AFT continues to work on advocating for and working to create better educational standards.

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, on the importance of National Education Standards