Standards based education, what is it?
In my last article, I shared information about the Common Core standards. These standards form part of the learning foundation for a Standards-Based Education model because they define the target standards students must meet in Language Arts and Math.
Standards based education makes a lot of common sense. In a standards based system, students move ahead after they have met particular standards. Historically, students are advanced grade to grade or within a certain subject after they have participated in the learning, not necessarily after they have mastered the learning. For the most part, demonstrating proficiency has not been a requirement for advancement in our education system. For instance, in a traditional geometry classroom, if a student fails a test on finding the surface area and volume of 3D figures, the failure is recorded in a grade book, but that student, as well as everyone else in the class, moves on to the next topic the next day, never to return to volume and surface area. A particular student can fail numerous tests and still pass a course and move on. In fact, there are likely times that students in this country are able to pass tests (let alone courses) without understanding the content at all. In a standards based classroom, that student would not move on, whether it was the next topic in geometry or the next level in math until he or she demonstrated proficiency in that standard.
Standards based education acknowledges the fact that students learn at different rates. Whereas the traditional model of school has resembled an assembly line where everyone moves at the same pace, the new model reflects a more individualized and customized system where some students are provided more time and support for learning while others may move forward in less time and need fewer interventions. In this system, learning is the constant and time is the variable. Theoretically, this can be as customized a learning experience as online shopping has become. That is also why you often hear “anywhere, anytime” learning.
Standards based education is fundamentally shaking the notion that the only learning that “counts” is the learning that happens in a classroom during school. With technology, students have much more flexibility to create their own learning environments, free of traditional space and time constraints. The required learning is outlined in a set of standards that are clear to teachers, students and parents. Everyone knows what the target is.
Ideally, the assessments are well aligned to accurately measure proficiency of the given standard and students have multiple opportunities (and multiple ways) to demonstrate proficiency. It is up to a school system to shape the dimensions of learning that best fit a community’s needs.
In a standards based system, failure is part of the process and it is not held “against” students. Winston Churchill once said, “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” We have been penalizing students for “failure” for too long.
Learning is a process where failure along the way can be quite instructive. It helps teachers and students understand where more help is needed. As an example, homework is seen as a tool to help students develop understanding of course material. Homework is seen as a formative assessment to inform future instruction, not as a tool to evaluate mastery. Therefore, failing a homework assignment would not be counted toward a final grade as an “F.” Rather, students would get feedback on the assignment that enabled both teachers and students to understand where to focus further instruction. An assessment to evaluate proficiency is a called a summative assessment, and typically comes at the end of a learning experience.
An easy analogy is a driver’s license test. When students take driver education courses and first get behind the wheel of a car, we don’t expect them to be immediately proficient. Nor do we hold it against them if they drive too closely to the centerline or have a hard time pulling out into traffic. We know it takes practice to become a good driver. When students take the final test, the evaluator doesn’t go back to find out how many times they did things wrong along the way. Their “practice” along the way isn’t counted against them. Rather, a student is evaluated on the final performance. If the student demonstrates proficiency, s/he gets a license. If not, there is always another try. (And that first failed test isn’t averaged in!) In the end, what matters is that a person demonstrates proficiency in driving before having a license to be on the road. Standards based education is similar in many ways.
Why is this change happening at all? The world has shifted enough that we can no longer afford to have some students soar through the education system on their way to college and have others not really access that level of learning and instead prepare for a career in a factory or on a farm. The landscape has changed. It is obviously more high tech, changing rapidly and more globally competitive. In the modern world, virtually everyone needs to learn at relatively high levels in order to earn a living. Millions of students and many cultures around the world understand this new paradigm and are hungry to adequately prepare themselves. While schools are working hard to make the shift in Maine, I don’t think we have done enough culturally, either in Maine or the United States, to instill a sense of the value or importance of schooling in our children. This hits home when we see lack of student motivation as one of the greatest challenges facing teachers in our local school systems.
Maria Libby is assistant superintendent of Maine School Administrative District 28 and Five Town Community School District.