Standards-based curriculum and assessment carries implications for decisions, actions, and support beyond the classroom. As you begin to work with state and national standards you are likely to encounter questions, especially “Who in my district and school is responsible for what standards?” and “On which standards am I supposed to focus?” Standards-based learning and teaching can be the driving force behind systemic reform in schools. But, to realize the power of the standards-based approach, you and others in your school, district, and community must reach consensus about critical issues related to the reform.
As standards-based curriculum and assessment moves beyond the classroom, you must help expand participation. Don't forget that educators who are expected to implement the standards should help set them. At the building level, include administrators, parents, and subject area or instructional specialists. At the district level, it's appropriate to involve the school board and the broader community. And, even if not directly involved in making decisions about standards, students need to be aware of the decisions and the reasons for the decisions. Informed students move more quickly to internalize standards and apply them in their own learning.
The local standards must be clearly understood by everyone in the education community; they must also be rigorous, applicable to all students, and used in the design of curriculum and assessment. Use the following steps and related questions to guide your local process of setting and implementing standards.
Setting Local Standards
Decide How to Set Local Standards. Community forums? Staff meetings? Committees? Or a combination?
Decide Who Needs to be Involved. Educators? Parents? Community members? Students? Others?
Decide Where to Focus Efforts. Is your focus to (a) review and adopt state and national standards, (b) review and adapt state and national standards, or (c) develop standards using state standards, national standards, and other resources?
Create an Action Plan. What will be the time line? Who will be responsible for what? What resources are needed? Who will adopt the standards? When will the standards be adopted? How will local standards be drafted, feedback solicited, and revisions made?
Communicate the Plan. Who needs to know? How will you communicate before the process starts (e.g., forums, newsletters)? How will you encourage two-way communication throughout the process?
Adopt and Publish Local Standards. What will be the time line? Who will be responsible for what? (Carefully distinguish opportunities for input and for decision making.) How will adoption and revision decisions be made?
Using Your Standards
Determine Responsibility for Teaching and Assessing Standards. At what grade level(s) will each standard be taught and assessed? Who is responsible for what?
Involve All Educators. What professional development is needed? How will standards-based units of study be shared within schools and across the district?
Develop School and District Assessment Plans. What existing tools can be used to assess student progress in relation to standards? What assessment tools need to be added? Is the plan comprehensive?
Collect Exemplars. What system will be used to collect and share student work? How will we reach consensus about what work should be used as benchmarks?
Plan for Communicating Results to the Community. How do you communicate progress toward standards with students and parents? How do you communicate progress toward standards within the school? Do report cards and other records reflect the selected standards or do they need to be revised? How can school report night be designed around the standards you have adopted? What other channels can be used to communicate progress toward standards to the community?
Plan for Using Results to Review and Refine Curriculum. How can assessment results be used to review and refine (a) responsibility for standards, (b) use of instructional materials and strategies, and (c) use of time?
We have primarily focused on how standards affect you, the classroom teacher. School and district definition of and support for standards-based curriculum, instruction, and assessment can enhance your efforts to improve student learning. And, the most profound effects of standards depend on you and your students. As expectations become clearer and you develop a common language for assessing progress toward standards, you and your students can clearly document improved learning. And, improved learning is what standards-based curriculum and assessment is all about.