Performance standards can foster trust, communication, and accountability in the classroom, leading to better teaching and learning.
Performance standards show me what the teacher is looking for in an assignment," we hear one student say to a classmate. "Standards make the grading process fairer," replies another.
Comments like these make our day. They come out of an experiment with a standards-based curriculum in American Studies, a junior-year elective that combines U.S. literature and history. Last year when we began teaching together, we struggled to find ways to involve our average-level students more actively in learning. Our students perceived us as too demanding: They felt that we expected more from them than they could give. No strategy or approach could bridge the gap between our expectations for the students and their expectations for themselves. We tried lectures, extensions, pep talks, extra help sessions, "neat" activities, and parent conferences, but nothing worked. At best, we noted a temporary improvement for only a few days. At worst, we were rapidly losing students. They became increasingly dispirited and frustrated with the rigor of the course content and the challenge of the assessments.