Conference Countdown
Atlanta, Ga.
April 2-4, 2016
  • membership
  • my account
  • help

    We are here to help!

    1703 North Beauregard Street
    Alexandria, VA 22311-1714
    Tel: 1-800-933-ASCD (2723)
    Fax: 703-575-5400

    8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. eastern time, Monday through Friday

    Local to the D.C. area: 1-703-578-9600, press 2

    Toll-free from U.S. and Canada: 1-800-933-ASCD (2723), press 2

    All other countries: (International Access Code) + 1-703-578-9600, press 2


  • Log In
  • Forgot Password?


ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show

2016 ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show

Learn. Teach. Lead.
Get the tools to put it all together at this can't-miss education conference—with more than 200 sessions and five inspirational keynote speakers.

Learn more and register.



ASCD respects intellectual property rights and adheres to the laws governing them. Learn more about our permissions policy and submit your request online.

Policies and Requests

Translations Rights

Books in Translation

Premium, Select, and Institutional Plus Member Book (Jul 2005)
Related Topics

From Standards to Success

by Mark R. O'Shea

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. A Visit to a Standards-Based School

In the fall of 1989, President George H. W. Bush presided over a U.S. education summit for state governors in Charlottesville, Virginia. This historic meeting gave rise to state academic content standards that have displaced national curriculum standards in leading school reform in the United States. As a result of the meeting, power and influence over curriculum moved dramatically away from the local school districts and into state executive offices, state legislatures, and state departments of education. This sudden transfer of power from local school districts to state authorities was surprisingly short-lived. Before states could even formulate policies and procedures to use the power of their standards, their influence over curriculum was trumped by the federal government through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now known as No Child Left Behind.

This new law requires states to use academic content standards to benchmark federally mandated “adequate yearly progress” toward ambitious school improvement goals. Despite continuing controversy, state content standards have emerged as the most powerful manifestation of the school reform that began with A Nation at Risk more than 20 years ago. Regardless of our views about the future of the standards, one essential fact remains steadfastly in place: Schools and districts that fail to demonstrate growth in standards achievement face sanctions. And they are likely to face them into the foreseeable future.

This book describes a comprehensive approach to implementing standards. The central strategy in this new approach includes elements of whole-school reform that are organized into a recursive cycle of instructional planning, teaching, and evaluation of students' work—all focused on raising learning expectations for standards achievement. The approach does not rely on widely used but ineffectual strategies, including curriculum alignment and text adoption procedures. These popular methods only ensure that topics in the standards are “covered.” They do not raise expectations, as only teachers can do.

To illustrate this alternative approach, let us imagine that we are visiting a fictional elementary school near Los Angeles, California, where teachers use the recursive cycle of standards-based planning to raise expectations for standards achievement. We will see the classroom of a teacher who plans standards-based lessons with her grade-level team. Then we will explore strategies used by the principal and other school leaders to support teachers as they plan and teach lessons to meet the standards.

Looking into a Standards-Based Classroom

Following a brief welcome to Mariposa Elementary School by the principal, Mrs. Lewis, we are escorted to the classroom of Mrs. Hernandez, a 2nd grade teacher. Mrs. Hernandez works closely with other teachers at her grade level to plan standards-based lessons. She invites us to examine her lesson plan as we enter the classroom.

Mrs. Hernandez's lesson plan is provided in Figure 1.1, along with callouts identifying the elements of the plan that make it standards-based. The lesson objectives are particularly important. They are written as outcomes to be demonstrated by the students. Furthermore, the outcomes are written from 2nd grade science and language arts standards that the teacher is addressing in her lesson.

Figure 1.1. Standards-Based Lesson Plan for 2nd Grade Science


Life cycles of organisms


Plants and animals have life cycles that are characteristic of their species. Some animal groups have distinctive life cycle stages.

Content Standards:

Life Sciences

2. Plants and animals have predictable life cycles.

2b. Students know the sequential stages of life cycles are different for different animals, such as butterflies, frogs, and mice.1 

Investigation and Experimentation

4. Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations.

4d. Students will write or draw descriptions of a sequence of steps, events, and observations.2 


2.1 Students write brief narratives based on their experiences:

  1. Move through a logical sequence of events.
  2. Describe the setting, characters, objects, and events in detail.3 

Standards focus the lesson on specific learning to be accomplished.


In this lesson we examine the life cycles of frogs and butterflies. The life cycles of other animals, including mice, will be addressed at another time. For today:

  • Given pictures of the life cycle stages of frogs and butterflies, students will place them in proper order for each animal.
  • Students will list the life cycle stages of frogs and butterflies in proper order.
  • In a brief skit about the life of a frog or a butterfly, students will describe the features of the life cycle stage they are portraying.
  • Following a reading of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, students will write a description of themselves growing up as a frog or a butterfly. They will use proper stage names and the academic language of the standards in their description.

The teacher describes what studentswill doto meet the selected standards for this lesson. Verbs are italicized, emphasizing the observable nature of expected student outcomes.


  • Activity cards showing the life cycle stages of frogs and butterflies on one side and information about each stage on the other side
  • Video of the growth and development of the frog and the butterfly from egg to adult
  • A copy of the children's book The Very Hungry Caterpillar


  1. Show frog and butterfly activity cards; ask students to identify the animals; see whether students know any life cycle stages and their names.
  2. Using the activity cards, reveal all stages of both animals in proper order; elicit student choral recitations of each stage name as it appears.
  3. Show a video of the growth and development of the frog and the butterfly.
  4. Have pairs of students sort shuffled activity cards into proper order for each animal.
  5. Have pairs of students write a list of the life cycle stages in proper order for each animal, working from sorted picture cards.
  6. Have several students line up in sequential order of the life cycle stages for each animal and ask them to describe the particular stage they are portraying. They will say what the animal eats and where it lives.

These activities should lead students to demonstrate the outcomes stated in the objectives.


Read The Very Hungry Caterpillar to all students in reading circle. Following the reading of the story, students will write their own story about growing up as a frog or a butterfly, using the words stage and sequence and naming each life cycle stage in proper order in their story.

The teacher will collect the students' work and examine each story to see that stage names appear in proper order.

Using Standards to Focus Teaching

We finish our review of the lesson plan just as Mrs. Hernandez invites the children to a corner of the classroom to look at picture cards of an adult frog and an adult butterfly. Several children raise their hands as they recognize these animals. Next, Mrs. Hernandez shows pictures of a cocoon and a tadpole. Only one or two children seem to recognize these life cycle stages. A discussion of each of the life cycle stages follows, with children providing choral responses to the teacher's questions. Mrs. Hernandez calls on several children to check their understanding:

Mrs. Hernandez: Can anyone recall this early stage in the life of the butterfly?
Angelica: That's the caterpillar.
Mrs. Hernandez: Good, Angelica. And who can tell me what the tadpole will change into?

The conversation in the classroom includes the academic vocabulary of the standard selected for the lesson plan. Students use the words stage, life cycle, and sequence. The teacher knows that these terms and concepts are important components of the standard. Students will need to recognize and use them properly to demonstrate achievement of the standard, both in class and during state standards tests when they encounter questions about life cycles.

Mrs. Hernandez proceeds from the picture card activity to video episodes that show a frog and a butterfly growing from egg to adult. At the end of the video, she asks students questions to see whether they can move beyond mere recognition of stage names to an understanding of the concept of a life cycle.

Mrs. Hernandez: Do people grow up in the same way as butterflies, Billy?
Billy: I don't think we grow in different stages.
Mrs. Hernandez: Billy says that people do not grow in stages like butterflies. What does the word stage mean to you, Latisha?
Latisha: A stage is what you look like before you change.
Mrs. Hernandez: How many life cycle stages does a frog have, Monica?
Monica: Three or four, I think. Let me see ... egg, tadpole, froglet, and adult.

As a result of the teacher's thoughtful questioning, students generate original language that includes the vocabulary of the selected standard. They say the words sequence and stage and explain their meanings. They identify stages by name, and the teacher writes each stage name on the board.

It is evident that children are engaged in meaningful academic work. They do not conduct word searches, fill out sentence completion worksheets, or work on tasks unrelated to the learning objectives of the lesson. Classroom activities are clearly aimed toward the achievement of planned outcomes that appear in the objectives.

Building Standards Assessment into the Classroom Routine

Mrs. Hernandez organizes and facilitates student-centered learning activities for individuals, pairs, or small groups. Following the video, children work in pairs to sort picture cards into the proper order for a frog's life cycle and a butterfly's life cycle. This activity is intended to achieve the following lesson plan objective: “Given pictures of the life cycle stages of frogs and butterflies, students will place them in proper order for each animal.” The children identify stage names correctly as the teacher moves among the pairs, listening to their responses. Clearly, students are achieving this objective of the lesson plan.

While students are busy with the picture card activity, Mrs. Hernandez checks individuals' understanding. She is listening for proper use of the academic vocabulary and language of the standard. She is also looking for the card placement skills described in the lesson's objectives. The card placement skills anticipate the next objective to be demonstrated: “Students will list the life cycle stages of frogs and butterflies in proper order.”

As Mrs. Hernandez moves from one pair of students to another, she seeks accurate lists, proper positioning of cards, and rearrangement of the cards into proper sequence. She is looking for students to place the cards in a cycle, not in a straight line. Mrs. Hernandez checks students' understanding of facts and concepts by asking questions, seeking clarification of responses, and requesting an alternative explanation or point of view. She is continually thinking about what students are saying, writing, or doing in relation to the specific behaviors described in the objectives of the lesson plan.

Following the sorting activity, Mrs. Hernandez asks one group of students to form a line in the front of the classroom with each child holding a picture card of a stage in a frog's life cycle. She asks the children to line up in the order of the frog's growth and to describe the particular stage they are portraying, including what their animal eats and where it lives. Following this brief skit, another group of students forms a properly sequenced line with butterfly picture cards. Students in this group take turns describing the life cycle stage of their pictured animal.

Measuring Achievement of Lesson Objectives

Soon Mrs. Hernandez gathers the children in a corner of the classroom to hear the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Carle, 2001). Following the reading of the story, she asks students to write their own personal biographies as if they were butterflies or frogs growing up near the school. Their biographies must include the words sequence and stage, as well as the names of each of the life cycle stages of their selected animal in proper order.

Mrs. Hernandez intends to share the students' stories with her grade-level colleagues in their next planning meeting. During this meeting, the teachers will compare samples of their students' work with the standards-based objectives in the lesson plans. Mrs. Hernandez hopes that the story writing will lead students to demonstrate higher-level reasoning and thinking skills through the creative exercise of imagining themselves as butterflies or frogs. To close the lesson, Mrs. Hernandez reviews the activities of the day and asks the children to respond to her questions covering most of the lesson's objectives.

Reflecting on a Standards-Based Lesson

A teacher who has followed a standards-based lesson plan can reflect on her teaching in relation to the goals she sets for her students. Mrs. Hernandez can describe in detail the characteristics of the accurate, standards-meeting responses that students are expected to provide. She knows the distinctions between substandard and standards-meeting work because the objectives include descriptions of a proficient performance: “Given pictures of the life cycle stages of frogs and butterflies, students will place them in proper order for each animal.”

Building Standards Assessment into Lesson Design

When teachers plan standards-based lessons by writing objectives in outcomes language, they learn to look beyond students' good behavior or enjoyment of the lesson for important indications of learning. Mrs. Hernandez has embedded several classroom assessments into her lesson to assure herself that students have achieved the important knowledge and skills specified in the standards. When the lesson is over, she examines students' work to see whether the objectives have been achieved. The lesson objectives are written directly from the state standards and frameworks. If students achieve the objectives of the lesson, they also achieve the selected standards.

Planning Work from Standards and Frameworks

Mrs. Hernandez's use of academic vocabulary reflects her deep understanding of the language and the content of the state frameworks and standards. During the lesson, she is careful to encourage students to use the important vocabulary of the standards. Her expectations come from reviewing the content of the standards and frameworks in regularly scheduled meetings with her colleagues. As a result of careful planning and collaboration with her grade-level team, Mrs. Hernandez can describe specific instances of achievement of critical components of California's science and language arts standards for 2nd grade students. She explains what happens in her classroom in relation to clear expectations for student learning described in the standards and frameworks.

Collaborating to Plan Lessons and Evaluate Students' Work

At Mariposa Elementary School, teachers plan their standards-based lessons in grade-level teams. They also use this time to compare students' work with the expectations of the standards.

Following the life cycles lesson, Mrs. Hernandez takes samples of her students' work to her grade-level team meeting, where the teachers review the objectives of the plan they designed together. Mrs. Hernandez discusses the events of the lesson, and she seeks her colleagues' opinions about the quality of the students' work in relation to the lesson's objectives and the standards. Examples of highquality work that meet or exceed the standards will be retained for future teaching and used to set expectations for student learning from one year to the next. Ideally, expectations for achievement will rise over time as teachers review increasingly better examples of students' work before they teach the lessons in subsequent years. When teachers set their sights high by examining exemplary work samples, they establish a clearer learning target for all students.

Leading Standards Implementation for Teachers

Several changes in teacher roles and responsibilities must take place before teaching can improve in a standards-based school. Mrs. Hernandez and her colleagues did not always teach in a collaborative manner. Before they learned to plan together, they spent individual planning time looking at curriculum materials and producing activity sheets. For the most part, they developed lessons from published curriculum materials that they thought were aligned with the standards. After teaching, they checked response sheets for completion and accuracy. Lessons were deemed successful if students enjoyed them, were well behaved during instruction, and turned in completed exercises. The teachers did not have the resources or time to check students' work in relation to the standards.

The new planning and teaching behaviors at Mariposa Elementary School arose from a comprehensive school district reform process that included principals, curriculum coordinators, and central office administrators. Mrs. Lewis, the school principal, designed the staff development program in collaborative lesson planning with colleagues from the La Senda School District office. The program focused on instructional planning and the use of state standards, frameworks, and the district's updated curriculum guides. Teachers learned how to plan lessons that included explicit learning outcomes derived from standards documents. They learned how to select curriculum resources based on the usefulness of the resource for meeting instructional objectives. Finally, they learned to evaluate students' work by comparing it with the expectations of the standards, by embedding assessment in lesson activities, and by carefully evaluating work samples with colleagues.

After considerable practice with standards-based planning, teachers were required to submit their lesson plans for Mrs. Lewis's review. She checked the plans to see that the objectives included well-described student outcomes written from the standards and frameworks. Before long, lesson plans written from standards and frameworks became the primary tool for standards achievement, rather than textbooks and curriculum materials selected for topical alignment with the standards.

Making Adjustments to Support Standards Achievement

Adjustments had to be made to the daily and weekly schedule of school activities to accommodate collaborative lesson planning. Grade-level teams needed time to jointly plan standards-based lessons and analyze students' work. Mrs. Lewis introduced the additional planning time as the professional development workshops were taking place. After teachers became comfortable with the new planning procedures, the principal sat in on grade-level team meetings. She knew from her own training that the process of setting learning expectations for students calls for professional judgment, and she looked forward to these team meetings to contribute her own views as an educator.

The principal took additional actions to advocate for standards achievement. Essential language arts standards were posted in the school's main office and on bulletin boards in the hallway. Parents were informed about the essential standards at sessions during back-to-school night. Conversations with teachers and students included questions about their efforts to teach and understand important standards that were highlighted during the school year.

Emphasizing Standards During Classroom Observations

After teachers planned lessons together for more than a year, Mrs. Lewis began to use standards-based criteria to evaluate instruction during the supervision process. She asks teachers to submit their lesson plans to her before a scheduled observation. She expects the lessons to include objectives with outcome behaviors written from the standards. She also expects to see essential academic vocabulary from the frameworks and higher-level reasoning tasks in planned activities.

During her classroom visits, Mrs. Lewis looks for student learning behaviors and products described in the objectives of the lesson plan. Whereas many observers might focus on the actions of the teacher and the deportment of the students during the lesson, Mrs. Lewis also assesses whether students are able to produce standards-meeting work as described in the lesson plan.

After she completes lesson observations, Mrs. Lewis asks the teachers to evaluate their students' class work in relation to the lesson's objectives and to bring samples of evaluated work to their postobservation conferences.

Conducting Postobservation Conferences

During postobservation conferences, Mrs. Lewis and her teachers review the lesson and how it was designed to achieve specific content standards. The conference includes a discussion of the lesson's objectives and the student behaviors and products that were expected to result from instruction. Following the review of the plan, Mrs. Lewis examines samples of students' work. The teachers explain the extent to which the student performances described in the objectives are evident in the work samples. Mrs. Lewis asks questions about the work, the lesson's objectives, and how the objectives were written from the standards. Such conversations about standards-based lesson objectives and work samples help keep instruction focused on the standards and on student achievement.

Providing Management Support for School Districts

Mrs. Lewis does not rely solely on instructional supervision to assure herself that students are meeting the standards. She is confident that they are meeting the standards because teaching and learning in the La Senda School District are focused on standards achievement.

Evaluating the Curriculum

As the district trained principals in curriculum management for standards achievement, curriculum coordinators and lead teachers developed and installed curriculum pacing guides at the district level. Now teachers at each grade level know the critical standards they are expected to teach, the order in which they are to be achieved, and the approximate time to be spent in their achievement. They keep up with the pace of instruction described in the guide through grade-level collaborative planning.

The district also prepared for teacher success by installing a curriculum management plan. To achieve standards, schools must do more than merely select standards-aligned textbooks and align the curriculum with the subject matter of the standards. Many facets of instructional planning, teaching, and student learning must change. The principal and district administrators installed a management system that supports teachers as they follow a new protocol for team-based lesson planning and student work evaluation.

Developing Benchmark Testing

The district's benchmark-testing program measures student achievement of the standards at important intervals during the school year. Benchmark tests that emulate the format of state standards exams are administered in 40-minute sessions shortly after the deadline for the achievement of a specific set of standards. Teams of teachers developed the benchmark tests during summer curriculum planning time after lead teachers, working with district leaders, had selected and sequenced critical standards. Teachers wrote the benchmark test items from the critical standards found in the curriculum guide. They planned the distribution of items on the benchmark tests to match the distribution of items on state tests. A test-scoring system lets each teacher know the extent to which her students have mastered the learning expectations of the standards before state exams are administered in the spring.

Moreover, Mrs. Lewis and the other principals receive a report that profiles the performance of each classroom in their school within 48 hours of benchmark test administration. These reports indicate how each teacher is progressing with the standards. The benchmark testing complements the standards-based classroom observations in motivating teachers to sustain their collaborative activities. The teachers believe in the benchmark tests because teams of well-respected teachers wrote the test items from state standards, frameworks, and test blueprints.

Assessing Standards Implementation in Your School

The story of standards achievement at Mariposa Elementary School is intended to convey a vision of preferred practices within the current standards-based reform environment. This vision includes collaborative lesson planning and student work evaluation, along with the installation of a curriculum management system that supports teachers' efforts. The checklist presented in Figure 1.2 can be used to compare the planning, teaching, and administrative activities of any school with the practices described at the La Senda schools.

Figure 1.2. Checklist of Practices in a Standards-Based School


  • _____ have copies of standards and frameworks for each subject they teach.
  • _____ do not rely on unchallenging student desk work, including word searches, sentence completion exercises, puzzles, and other forms of response sheets not linked to standards.
  • _____ plan lessons from standards, frameworks, and related state documents.
  • _____ plan standards-based lessons in regularly scheduled grade-level or subject-matter team meetings.
  • _____ submit standards-based lesson plans with objectives written from the standards to the principal for periodic review.
  • _____ examine student work samples in relation to the standards in regularly scheduled team meetings.
  • _____ retain copies of exemplary student work to use as benchmarks when teaching the lessons again.


  • _____ occasionally review samples of students' work to find evidence of state standards achievement.
  • _____ review standards-based lesson plans and resulting samples of students' work during instructional supervision.
  • _____ post critical standards in the teachers' lounge, the principal's office, and other school settings visited by parents and community members.
  • _____ have adjusted the school schedule of activities to accommodate grade-level team planning with the standards.


  • _____ have identified critical standards to be achieved in each subject for each grade level.
  • _____ have developed a curriculum pacing guide that informs teachers when their students should achieve critical standards throughout the school year.
  • _____ use benchmark tests to measure the achievement of important standards at quarterly intervals throughout the school year.
  • _____ use the benchmark assessment system to inform teachers of the progress that each of their students is making toward the achievement of critical standards likely to be assessed on annual standards-based tests.

The checklist is not meant to include all promising reform activity in standards-based schools. Nor is it likely that any one school will exhibit all the listed activities. However, the checklist reflects practices that will help establish a curriculum management system to continuously measure and support achievement of state content standards at the classroom level. Similar checklists and curriculum auditing tools can be found at the end of each chapter.


1  From California Department of Education (2003), p. 39. Copyright 2003 by California Department of Education, CDE Press, 1430 N Street, Suite 3207, Sacramento, CA 95814. Reprinted with permission.

2  From California Department of Education (2003), p. 44. Copyright 2003 by California Department of Education, CDE Press, 1430 N Street, Suite 3207, Sacramento, CA 95814. Reprinted with permission.

3  From California Department of Education (1999), p. 78. Copyright 1999 by California Department of Education, CDE Press, 1430 N Street, Suite 3207, Sacramento, CA 95814. Reprinted with permission.


Log in to submit a comment.

To post a comment, please log in above. (You must be an ASCD EDge community member.) Free registration