Business Education

Definition of Standards in Education

Learning Standards Definition  November 25, 2019 – 06:51 pm
How Education Standards Drives

Learning standards are concise, written descriptions of what students are expected to know and be able to do at a specific stage of their education. Learning standards describe educational objectives—i.e., what students should have learned by the end of a course, grade level, or grade span—but they do not describe any particular teaching practice, curriculum, or assessment method (although this is a source of ongoing confusion and debate).

Following the adoption of a variety of federal and state policies—notably the No Child Left Behind Act, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965—all states now use standardized assessments designed to evaluate academic achievement in relation to a set of learning standards. Until the development and widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards for the subjects of English language arts and mathematics, and more recently the, learning standards in the United States were independently developed by states, usually as part of a collaborative committee process overseen by a state’s department of education that included educators and subject-area specialists, as well as public-commentary periods (although both development and adoption processes varied from state to state). When investigating or reporting on learning standards, it is important to know how they were developed, what knowledge and skills they describe, and how they are actually used in schools.

While learning standards vary in content, purpose, and design from state to state, most standards systems in the United States share a few common attributes:

  • Subject areas: Learning standards are typically organized by subject area—e.g., English language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, health and wellness, etc. Most standards systems use the same general subject-area categories that public schools have been using for decades, although some may be refined to reflect new knowledge or changing educational priorities, such as “science and technology” or “health and wellness.”
  • Learning progressions: In each subject area, standards are typically organized by grade level or grade span—consequently, they may be called grade-level expectations or grade-level standards—and the sequencing of standards across grades or stages of academic progress is called a “learning progression” (although terminology may vary from place to place). Learning progressions map out a specific sequence of knowledge and skills that students are expected to learn as they progress through their education. There are two main characteristics of learning progressions: (1) the standards described at each level are intended to address the specific learning needs and abilities of students at a particular stage of their intellectual, emotional, social, and physical development, and (2) the standards reflect clearly articulated sequences—that is, each grade-level learning expectation builds upon previous expectations while preparing students for more challenging concepts and more sophisticated coursework at the next level. The basic idea is to make sure that students are learning age-appropriate material (knowledge and skills that are neither too advanced nor too rudimentary), and that teachers are sequencing learning effectively or avoiding the inadvertent repetition of material that was taught in earlier grades. For a more detailed discussion, see learning progression.
  • Educational goals: Many sets of learning standards also include overarching, long-term educational goals—i.e., what students should be able to do when they have completed their public-school education. These overarching goals will typically describe the knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits that public schools should be teaching and cultivating in stages throughout a student’s education. For example, they may address critical thinking, logical reasoning, and problem solving; oral and written communication; perseverance and work ethic; digital technology and media; or multicultural literacy (valuing and understanding other perspectives, races, and cultures)—i.e., broadly applicable skills that will help students succeed in adult life.
  • Content: While each set of learning standards is unique, there is often a great deal of commonality from system to system or state to state. For example, while different sets of mathematics standards may use different descriptions, or they may sequence specific learning expectations differently, most mathematics standards describe similar quantitative concepts, principles, and reasoning. That said, in subjects such as history, social studies, or science—which contain an enormous variety of possible concepts, facts, skill sets, and areas of study, not to mention politically and ideologically contentious issues—learning standards will likely reflect greater content-related disparities. In addition, some learning standards are considered to be more precise, exacting, and prescriptive—e.g., they will describe the specific punctuation marks that students should know how to use correctly at a particular grade level—while others are considered to be more general, encompassing, and descriptive—e.g., they will explain more broadly what students should be able to do when writing (articulate concepts clearly, use grammatical conventions correctly, cite sources accurately, etc.).


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