Educational Standards


Education is indispensable to the strength, stability and progress of a nation and therefore the institutions of learning of the educational system have indeed a lion’s share of the sublime responsibility to carry out important outcomes. No educational system is fixed or static but continuously undergo processes of change. It is concerned with human beings who are individually different in many aspects such as genetics, social, cultural, spiritual, economic, geographic origin, political background etc. Nonetheless, all education should lead to the achievement by the players of the “learning arena” which include among others the teachers and learners the achievement of desired goals. The presence of an array of varied factors cannot be overlooked but certain reliable and authoritative rules/policies can assure attainment of levels or degree of quality education. Standards are set up because they been tested and recognized to be of credible value.There are standards/guidelines required by law and by authorities of concerned specific areas as in education. Implementers of education are mandated to follow because such have been established after judicious studies and previous applications.

j0283641.gifEducational standards are verbal statements of goals or desired outcomes that serve as guidelines (or sometimes requirements) which educators follow in educational practice to ensure that students are taught the most significant, valuable and relevant information. Standards are deemed to be objective, value-neutral, and uncontroversial statements that involve drawing upon a number of resources and techniques which are mutually agreed upon to be fundamentally beneficial and important to the learning process. These statements promote the essential knowledge and skills needed by an individual for it directly effects the academic success of a student which inevitably has an effect on one's competitiveness in the job marketplace and the economy.

The curriculum is one concern in educational institutions which have specific standards. These are sets of courses offered as requirements for graduation coupled with specific “defined” courses for various majors/fields of specialization. Over and above the general and major subjects we find the curriculum to provide for physical education (athletics, sports), health education, home-room program (guidance and counseling service) etc., all geared towards the development of the total individual.

In general, most courses have a "basic" curriculum. There are topics that are consistently taught regardless of where the subject is being taught and by whom. For example, all students taking a United States History course would almost certainly learn about the American Revolution. What they would learn specifically might vary, depending upon the emphasis placed on certain figures, events, or concepts, but that they would learn about this topic in general is certain. Educational standards can also govern how certain subjects are taught, and how teachers much approach teaching a particular subject. For example, courses taught in the United States in 2007 are expected to reflect and consider the perspectives and contributions of minority groups. While in previous generations, American Literature courses may have only featured the works of Caucasian male authors, standards would now dictate that teachers include and perhaps stress the contributions made by women, African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, and others to American Literature. Teachers use standards as guidelines to come up with orderly procedures/methods, so they can facilitate in the realization of the desired course outcomes. The teacher needs to implement the curriculum to meet its desire goals. It is his/her prime concern to identify the educational ends, objectify and be guided in the selection of appropriate means/methods to realize the goals.

Standards also play a role in dictating who is and who is not qualified to teach students in certain subjects and at certain levels. Teachers are expectedly competent in fields they hold certification of. Most states require teachers, at least within the public school system, to hold a teaching license or certification. Licensure is also often specific to certain age groups and certain subject areas. A person with a certification in Secondary-Science Education would likely not be allowed to teach Kindergarten classes unless they obtained a license in Primary or Early-Childhood Education. Teachers are also required to pursue professional growth through further studies, seminars on field of specialization undertaken by recognized educational committees or organizations. This is for the benefit of personal growth, promotion of the profession and inadvertently the students who will be taught by the teacher.

There are three overlapping classifications of educational standards which differ according to their function:

1. Content standards, are domain specific. They define the knowledge, concepts, and skills that students should acquire at each level in a specific subject/topic. Nearly every subject imaginable has standards which govern what is taught in that subject, how information is taught, and by whom. As mentioned a professional consensus is decided upon by different groups, e.g. For mathematics there is the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, for American history there is the American Historical Association.

2. Skill standards define standards that are to be met with regards to fundamental skills such as communication skills. The ability of the student to read analytically and critically, or the ability to express himself effectively both in speech and in writing. Skill standards also define job-performance standards, such as the student's ability to work in groups.

3. Performance Standards are often used by educators to denote two different concepts. The first concept uses Performance standards as something to further clarify the goals and intention of the general content or skill standards. For example, it gives a recommendation of tasks that educators may use to fit into their particular content standards. The second concept defines the degree of proficiency or the "how much" of performance (Baker 2003). This kind of performance standards is frequently used when assessing students -- basic, proficient, or advanced. Benchmarks are set to define if a student has reached a certain proficiency.

History of Educational Standards in the United States


Ralph W. Tyler
Ralph W. Tyler
Early musings about standards and assessments can traced to Ralph W. Tyler. Tyler was thought of to have coined the term evaluation as it "pertained to schooling, describing a testing construct that moved away from pencil and paper memorization examinations and toward an evidence collection process dedicated to overarching teaching and learning objectives" (Hlebowitsh 2002). Tyler got involved in a project with the Progressive Education Association which is known as the Eight-Year Study whose purpose was to help educational institutions better understand the effects of high school experience on student's performance in college. Through this project, Tyler designed a curriculum planning rationale:

  1. What educational purposes should the school seek to attain?
  2. What educational experiences can be provided that are likely to attain these purposes?
  3. How can these educational experiences be effectively organized?
  4. How can we determine whether these purposes are being attained?

Tyler believed that in answering the above stated questions, curriculum developers should take into mind that the curriculum should be responsive to three central factors:
  1. the nature of the learner (developmental factors, learner interests and needs, life experiences, etc.);
  2. the values and aims of society (democratizing principles, values and attitudes); and
  3. knowledge of subject matter (what is believed to be worthy and usable knowledge).

In the 1990s, there were two principal sources which generated the standards, the academic disciplines and the society. The academic disciplines were led by professional organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in 1989 or the National Council of English in 1996. Society is also influential in generating the standards in the curriculum however, this source was narrowed down to standards that were pertinent to the skills requirements for success in the workplace (Baker 2003). There are categories of skills that were considered by the society to be important in one's economic success. The academic part of schooling was not given much attention but attitudes such as teamwork where the emphasis is on the roles and functions of each team member. Fundamental skills (i.e. reading and computation skills) were also considered. Applied problem solving was also given due importance. Skills which dealt with the general affective area which also involved responsibility, leadership and service orientation were likewise highlighted to be of value.

As the US has changed and grown, so have notions of what should constitute a proper education for a citizen of the United States. Cognitive Psychology soon found its way as a factor influencing educational standards and there was focus on the students' individual needs. Fundamentals of reading comprehension, mathematical problem solving, and one's capability of explaining subject-matter content and meta-cognition were emphasized as something that shows deep understanding of the subject matter (Baker 2003). In the 1930's and 40's expectations of education also changed as society became more diverse culturally and economically. Educational goals change as the values and interests of the society shifts.

National Standards and How it Affects our Classrooms


A teacher begins to design his/her lesson plan according to the standards set nationally by professional organizations. For example the National Council of Teachers of English state the following as one of their goals for English Language Arts:

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"Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works" (NCTE 1996).


From this general statement schools in every state create benchmarks to demarcate what should be accomplished by the end of the different grade levels (Grabe & Grabe, 2007).

An example can be found in North Dakota’s Standards and Benchmarks:

Content Standard 1: Students gather and organize information

And for that particular standard it lists the following benchmarks:

Benchmark 4
1.4.1 Understand main idea and supporting details
1.4.2 Use simple organized strategies
1.4.3 Use appropriate reference tools
1.4.4 Use vocabulary knowledge to gather information

A curriculum framework is then designed to bridge the content standards and the classroom by providing for the content of the curriculum and how that content is to be organized and presented (Sanstead, 1996) Teachers plan their class activities according to established frameworks (click here for an example of a framework)

Prescribed curricula and other standard requirements imposed to educational institutions are indeed valuable for it more or less stipulates minimum requirements or expectancies to attain desired goals. These standardized prescriptions can provide moral commitment on the part of the implementers . The authoritative bodies function as guardians of the clients/customers –the learners. The preventive role is to eliminate possible substandard education and do justice to the learners.

Notwithstanding the fact that the school system is bound to follow certain standards to accomplish the curriculum goal, experiences have revealed that a teacher must be prepared to exercise prudent measures to sometimes make adjustments and modifications and still not sacrifice the desired goals. Difficulties in implementing programs as dictated by standards must be noted and should be brought to proper the proper body/authority for possible review of standards recommended. It is a fact that in education, there is and there must be a continuum of changes towards progress.


Educational Standards and Standardized Testing

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A now common way to assess student knowledge or aptitude is through standardized testing. Standardized tests are designed to both assess student knowledge and indicate if and where a student is lacking in academic proficiency, as dictated by content and performance standards. Though viewed by many as a very useful indicator of a student's strengths and deficiencies, the issue of standardized testing has become increasingly contentious and political in recent years. The Department of Education's "No Child Left Behind" Act has been met by both praise and criticism due to its emphasis on standardized testing and assessment.

The four stated goals, or "Four Pillars" of the "No Child Left Behind" Act are stronger accountability for results, new freedom for states and communities, proven education methods, and more choices for parents. The goal of "stronger accountability" relates to the Act's committment to ensuring that all students, regardless of race or class, are performing "up to standards," and that schools in which there are significant performance gaps are punished for these difficiencies. The goal of "new freedom" relates to the Act's permission for individual states and school districts to decide how educational funds are used and allocated to best suit their needs. The goal of "proven education methods" refers to the Act's committment to making sure that schools and teachers instruct children according to the most effective methods as proven by rigorous scientific and statistical studies. The goal of "choice for parents" refers to the Act's promise that parents whose children attend schools which are deemed to be failing as determined by the stipulations of the Act have the right to remove their children from those schools and choose another school for them. In theory, these goals all seem like worthy and reasonable expectations (NCLB) .

In practice, the "No Child Left Behind" Act has been met by much criticism due to its reliance almost entirely on standardized and high-stakes testing to determine which schools are failing and which are not. Opponents of the Act argue that the Act is meant to "look good on paper," but do little to actually improve the situation of schools and students across the nation. They argue that the Act is excessively punative and short-sighted, expecting under-funded schools with little support from the state and federal level to to bear the entire burden of responsibility for educational-shortcomings which, in fairness, should be attributed to a variety of societal failings, as well educational ones.

Technologies have led to modifications in how standardized tests are taken and scored. Using computer-based programs, students can now take tests such as the ACT, GRE, and MCAT without ever picking up a piece of paper or a pen. These standardized tests and many others can be administered completely through the computer, and scores are available to students within minutes of test completion. While for some adjustment to this format can be daunting, it is generally a welcomed innovation, given the efficiency of the medium. Even hand-written standardized tests are almost exclusively scored through the use of computerized scoring machines. It is evident that technology has changed the way we take standardized tests, and also that its use has allowed for the increased administration of such tests due to the efficiency of scoring and assessment. This too is a somewhat controversial subject, especially for those who feel that standardized testing is not a sufficient way to assess student achievement or aptitude and should be used in a more limited capacity than it is today.

Educational Standards and Technology


Given the prominent and important role that technologies now play in education, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has developed a list of standards regarding what students should know about technology, and what things they should be able to do with it (Grabe and Grabe, 2007). The standards encompass expectations related to several different technologically relevant areas. The areas are:

1. Basic operations and concepts
2. Social, ethical, and human issues
3. Technology productivity tools
4. Technology communication tools
5. Technology research tools
6. Technology problem-solving and decision-making tools

ISTE also provides a list of benchmarks which the Society believes should be goals for usage and understanding at certain grade levels. The expectations assume that as children mature in their education, so should their use of and proficiency with various technologies. The standards put forth by ISTE can be helpful to teachers by providing them with guidance as to what teachers should expect and encourage their students to do with technology at various grade levels. The standards can also help teachers see the "bigger picture" of the issues that arise through the use of technologies. Understanding the multi-dimensionality of the medium is important but sometimes difficult for unfamiliar students and teachers, but standards like those established by ISTE can help both groups successfully navigate a wide variety of educational technologies.


Some Issues about Standards-based Education




In January 2002, the "No Child Left Behind Act" became a law. While the idea of standards-based education is to strive to place every student on an equal level of learning by ensuring that every child meets the sate educational standards it also has some effects that are detrimental to the students and educators as well.

Standards-based education when it is too much focused on assessment restricts the student’s growth in learning. Teachers and students are limited to activities and certain parcels of topics. It has a tendency to make a curriculum less meaning-based as topics in the scope of the exam are often not relevant to a student’s actual environment and current events. J. Coleman states: “Real scholarship is active and exciting. But by fixing a standard, rather than providing rewards for greater and greater accomplishment, there is no opportunity for passionate action, but only for passive acquiescence” (Baines & Stanley 2003).

“The obsession for testing has pushed the boundaries of rationality” as state exams dictate the content, delivery and timing of a school’s curriculum (Baines & Stanley 2003). In a survey that K. Doherty makes, 70% of the teachers who took the poll admitted to have spent more time coaching students in test-taking strategies than concentrating on the subject-matter (Baines & Stanley 2003).

While the tests neatly chart the “progress” of a student/school it inevitably ignores other factors that affect and thus, also need to be accounted in a student’s educational growth. It reduces the entirety of education in a few digits and the student’s upbringing, disposition, talents and disability become irrelevant (Baines & Stanley 2003).

The school is rated based from the test scores their students garner. If the students’ scores are failing in a certain school, the institution is given a “below acceptable“ rating and maybe recommended for closure. In some instances, remedial measures are imposed and a review of performance is set. This then leads many of the teachers to focus more on the students who would give the "payoff:" “The smart ones will pass [the state exam] even if you ignore them the whole year, the ‘ones who just don’t have the brainpower’ will never pass, even if you spent your entire life helping them study for it. Realize where the payoff is best and put your efforts there” (Baines & Stanley 2003). This kind of scenario results to the struggling students being neglected and disregarded. A survey of teachers in 2002 found that 70 percent of teachers thought the state exam had too much influence on the curriculum and half admitted that they spent a great deal of time coaching students on test taking strategies (Doherty 2001). Teachers are forced to focus on insuring that their students will pass the tests as required by the state.

Teaching to make the students pass the state tests insults the teacher’s vocation and expertise .They are given an approved curriculum, a curriculum ‘aligned’ textbook with prefabricated worksheets and finally the tool for measurement and evaluation (test). The creativity and innovativeness of the teacher is stifled, her enthusiasm is suppressed if not killed, and at the end of the line, it is the learner who are deprived of quality instruction. The teacher’s talents are not tapped and may result to, low morale and stunted professional growth. The teacher and student have little say on what is to be learned in their class. Standards-based education has taken the focus off the child who is learning and the teacher who is instructing and instead invests on “a stack of papers,” that is the state test (Baines & Stanley 2003).

While standards-based education does indeed address the issue of accountability of the educational system – as performance of the students are rated on certain benchmarks. It brings with it certain disadvantages. There are flaws that need to be addressed as it blurs the focus on what learning really is and marginalizes both students and teachers as they are not able to optimize themselves in the learning and teaching process.

Research on Standard-based Education


Echevarria, J., Short, D., & Powers, K. (2006). School reform and standards-based education: A model for english-language learners. Journal of Educational Research, 99(4), 195-210.
A study of different models of instructions for English Language Learners who were trying to meet the content standards set by the nation's education reform movement while grappling with the challenge of learning "academic English" as well.

Hoover, J. J., & Patton, J. R. (2004). Differentiating standards-based education for students with diverse needs. Remedial & Special Education, 25(2), 74-78.
Hoover and Patton state that with the current emphasis on teaching and assessing standards there is a need for knowledge and skills to differentiate standards-based education so as to meet the special needs of students with high-incidence disabilities.

Howarth, D. A., & Mountain, K. R. (2004). Geography for life and standards-based education in the commonwealth of kentucky. Social Studies, 95(6), 261-265.
An analysis of the national geography and standards-based education in Kentucky tracing the changes in public education since the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990; Development of the state's curricular framework; Geography in the Kentucky curriculum; Formulation of the Core Content for Assessment and the writing of the tests questions for the assessment

Links


References


Baines, L. A., & Stanley, G. K. (2006). The iatrogenic consequences of standards-based education. Clearing House, 79(3), 119-123.

Baker, E. L., & O'Neil, Harold F. Jr. (2003). Standards for student learning. In J. W. Guthrie (Ed.), Encyclopedia of education (2nd ed., pp. 2315-2318). New York: The Gale Group Inc.

A Diverse Educational System. (2003). Retrieved Nov. 1, 2007, from http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/facts/factover/ch6.htm

Echevarria, J., Short, D., & Powers, K. (2006). School reform and standards-based education: A model for english-language learners. Journal of Educational Research, 99(4), 195-210.

Doherty, K. 2001. Poll: Teachers support standards with hesitation. Education Week.20 (17):20.

Grabe, M., & Grabe, C. (2007). Key themes and issues for using technology in your classroom. Integrating technology for meaningful learning (pp. 18-30). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Hlebowitsh, P. (2002). In Guthrie J. W. (Ed.), Tyler, ralph W. (1902?1994). New York: Macmillan Reference USA.

Hoover, J. J., & Patton, J. R. (2004). Differentiating standards-based education for students with diverse needs. Remedial & Special Education, 25(2), 74-78.

Howarth, D. A., & Mountain, K. R. (2004). Geography for life and standards-based education in the commonwealth of kentucky. Social Studies, 95(6), 261-265.

Pollard, J. (2002). Measuring what matters least. Retrieved Nov. 1, 2007, from http://www.standardizedtesting.net/

Sanstead, Wayne G. PhD. (1996). English language arts curriculum framework. Retrieved Nov. 1, 2007, from http://www.dpi.state.nd.us/standard/content/english96.pdf