Despite uncertainty surrounding education as we head into 2017, there is one thing we do know for sure. For the past 30 or so years, education reform has been pushed by academic standards that define what knowledge and skills students must achieve to be prepared for school, work and life after high school graduation. Standards have an important place in the U.S. education system, and standards will continue to play a critical role in creating effective curriculum that helps prepare students for the demands of the 21st century.
A Brief History of the Role of Standards in Education Reform
Standards have played a key role in education reform since the early 1980s with the publication of, “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.” This report from the National Commission on Excellence in Education provided concrete evidence that America’s schools were failing, prompting a series of standards-based education reforms that span across many administrations:
- After the report was released, President George H.W. Bush gathered with every state governor to discuss how to improve education in America during the nation’s first National Education Summit. This summit ultimately led to the creation of eight National Education Goals, which set a framework for standards-based reform that promoted student achievement.
- In 1994, President Bill Clinton enacted the Improving America’s Schools Act, which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. Under Improving America’s Schools, all states were required to establish standards for every subject and grade level.
- Standards-based education reform was brought into the new millennium with President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This moved educational control to the federal government and required states to prove yearly progress in helping all students achieve academic proficiency by 2014. This created a domino effect around standards: high-stakes assessments were based on standards and student and teacher performance was based on the outcomes of standards-based, high-stakes exams.
Now with the passage of ESSA, educational control is shifting back to state government, and states are no longer required to evaluate teachers based on high-stakes exams. However, ESSA still requires that schools and districts are held accountable for student performance, and states must have established standards to assess student achievement in reaching college and career readiness goals.
3 Reasons Standards Are Essential to Education
While the role of standards in education has shifted over time, the stakes surrounding standards remain high — and will continue to remain high in the future. Standards are an essential component of education because:
- Standards set clear and measurable goals. There’s a common misunderstanding surrounding standards. Individuals often perceive standards as the curriculum or course of study in a particular subject. Rather, standards inform educators about what the outcomes of a course of study should be. Common Core and other state college and career readiness standards define the skills and knowledge that students must obtain to be prepared for college, work and life; standards also guide the goals that educators must work toward.
- Standards inform instruction. Standards are what curriculum, assessments and professional development are designed to support and achieve. At Apex Learning, curriculum development starts with standards. Our standards-based curriculum is designed around Depth of Knowledge, which was developed by Dr. Norman Webb of the University of Wisconsin to ensure accountability, student achievement and that learning will lead to successful outcomes on high stakes exams.
To develop curriculum content, we also utilize Understanding by Design, or Backward Design. In this process, we begin with assessments as opposed to curriculum, determining the specific skills and knowledge that are being assessed and defining the level of rigor students are required to reach in those areas. We then ask ourselves what would be the most effective way to assess student performance to show mastery to the level of rigor necessary. Finally, we build instruction to align with the assessment. If standards change or new standards are introduced, we use this process to create new content that will help students achieve them.
- Standards help measure achievement. The dictionary.com definition of “standard” is “something considered by an authority or by general consent as the basis of comparison; an approved model.” This describes the basic idea of Common Core and other state college and career readiness standards. These form a common set of goals that can be measured within a state or across the country to determine student success.
Selecting Standards-Based Curriculum
Despite this year of uncertainty, Apex Learning believes standards will continue to play a critical role in education. When choosing a digital curriculum, it’s important to consider standards when making your selection. You will achieve better outcomes with a standards-based curriculum such as Apex Learning. In math, students will think like mathematicians, applying knowledge and skills in novel ways to solve complex problems. In English language arts, students will gain the skills necessary to write, read, speak, and listen critically. In science, social studies and other content areas, students will apply subject matter knowledge and skills to critical reasoning tasks. Overall, more learning will take place and students will be better prepared for college and careers without the need for remediation.