We spend considerable time and energy on standards. Setting standards, assessing progress toward standards, and determining when standards are met are among the most common areas of attention. Obviously, these are important actions, but there is little evidence that these activities alone have much impact on student learning outcomes.
Further, multiple studies have shown that choosing to raise standards will not necessarily result in increases in student learning. In 2012, a study conducted by Tom Loveless at the Brown Center at the Brookings Institute concluded that there is no consistent evidence that raising academic standards lifted academic performance on a large scale. More recently, a study reported in the journal Education Next found the absence of a relationship between higher academic proficiency standards and growth on test scores.
Still, we know that standards have the potential to influence learning outcomes. The challenge is to employ standards in ways that make the greatest impact. Let’s explore five ways in which we can leverage standards to make a positive difference in learning.
First, we can use standards to guide the development of authentic, purposeful curriculum. We know that students respond more positively and are more likely to invest learning effort when they are presented with learning tasks and challenges that are meaningful to them. When standards are used to guide the development of curricula that are rich and relevant, learning engagement and commitment grow.
Second, we can make standards more accessible by translating them into student friendly language. Unless students understand what standards mean for them and how standards relate to what they are learning, there can be little hope that standards will have a beneficial impact. Of course, we need to use this language when explaining standards and coaching students as they learn.
Third, we can use standards to drive the development of formative, interim, and summative assessments. Alignment across standards, learning experiences, and assessment systems is crucial to students’ understanding of the significance of standards and experiencing the synergy standards can provide to their learning efforts.
Fourth, we can frame our feedback to students using standards as guideposts and benchmarks for progress. Standards can help students to see where their learning is moving forward, what steps and efforts might be most useful to continue their progress, and what will be most helpful to them as they approach proficiency.
Fifth, we can coach students to use standards to plan, guide, and track their learning progress. When we use standards to drive instruction, frame feedback, and monitor progress, our influence on learning can be significant. However, the impact of standards is highest when students internalize standards, use to them to focus their attention, align their learning efforts, and monitor their progress. In fact, when students understand the value and leverage the potential of standards to guide their learning, there is no limit to what they can learn.
Each of these five strategies hold the potential to generate beneficial learning outcomes. However, the more students experience and leverage standards for themselves, the more powerful they become. It is more than worth the effort to coach students to become the primary “leveragers” of standards.