History of the Standards
Before describing the model of standards and benchmarks that is the basis for this project, it is useful to briefly consider the major efforts that are completed or underway to identify standards and benchmarks. These efforts, of course, form the database from which this project draws.
It is certainly no exaggeration to say that the publication of Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics in 1989 by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) ushered in a new era relative to the role of national organizations in the practice of schooling. Through the Standards document, NCTM helped to form a new perspective on how national subject-area groups can contribute to the improvement of education when it delineated, for three levels (K-4, 5-8, and 9-12), a consensus on what students should know and be able to do and how that might best be demonstrated in the classroom. Other organizations soon followed NCTM's lead. The influence of the NCTM Standards is reflected in another useful resource for the identification of mathematics content: an assessment framework for mathematics developed for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)1. This document, Mathematics Framework for the 1996-2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress (n.d.), organizes the subject area into five sections, each providing up to a dozen statements presented as benchmark indicators; benchmark material is identified by the grade at which it should be introduced and when it should be assessed at both informal and formal levels.
In addition, NCTM published Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics (1991) and Assessment Standards for School Mathematics (May 1995), the latter organized around six standards: important mathematics content, enhanced learning, equity, openness, valid inferences, and coherence. NCTM has recently revised the standards, publishing Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (2000). This new set of standards, while built upon the foundation of the original Standards documents, differs from the original in that it integrates the classroom-related portions of all three prior works and, in addition, re-organizes standards content into four grade bands: prekindergarten through grade 2, grades 3-5, grades 6-8, and grades 9-12.
In science, three efforts have contributed significantly to the development of standards. The National Research Council (NRC) published the National Science Education Standards in December 1996. Material related directly to content standards fills over one-third of the work's 262 pages, while additional chapters address standards for science teaching and professional development, as well as assessment, program, and system standards. The science content standards are written for three grade levels: K-4, 5-8, and 9-12. At each grade level, seven general science topics are addressed. Standards related to these topics become increasingly comprehensive at each grade level.
The second effort within the field of science comes from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Working from the foundation they helped build in Science for All Americans (1992), AAAS's Project 2061 provides over 60 "literacy goals" in science as well as mathematics, technology, and the social sciences. These goals are well articulated across levels K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. This effort, published as Benchmarks for Science Literacy (1993), includes a useful discussion and presentation of the research base available to those who worked on the project.
In addition to these efforts, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has published the Scope, Sequence and Coordination of National Science Education Content Standards (Aldridge, 1995) as an addendum to The Content Core: A Guide for Curriculum Designers (Pearsall, 1993). This supplement is designed to make the Core more consistent with the recently published NRC standards. NSTA has also released A High School Framework for National Science Education Standards (Aldridge, 1995), developed under a grant from the National Science Foundation. Like the addendum to the Core, this framework builds directly from the November 1994 draft of the NRC science standards. Essential generalizations in physics, chemistry, biology, Earth and space sciences, and other areas organize the framework. Each generalization is described in some detail with a list of the relevant concepts, empirical laws, and theories or models that students will need in order to acquire a solid grounding in the topic. These subsections are presented in grade sequence (9, 10-12) and include a recommended learning sequence. Other useful sources of information come from NAEP, including their Science Objectives: 1990 Assessment, Science Assessment and Exercise Specifications for the 1994 NAEP and Science Framework for the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress (since republished as the Science Framework for the 1996-2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress).
The History Standards Project, directed by the National Center for History in the Schools (NCHS), first published three sets of standards: National Standards for History for Grades K-4, National Standards for United States History, and National Standards for World History (NCHS, 1995). Publication of the standards drew immediate criticism, launched by Lynn Cheney who, as former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, had approved funding for the project ("History Standards," Education Daily, January 1995). Others joined the debate, either condemning the history standards outright or making recommendations for their improvement. A group of historians, practitioners, and public figures, convened by the Council of Basic Education (CBE), reviewed the documents and concluded that the "overwhelming majority of criticisms was targeted at the teaching examples in the documents, rather than at the actual standards for student achievement" ("Review panels," CBE, October 1995). The teaching examples are absent from a new, basic edition of the standards, National Standards for History (NCHS, 1996). This edition also takes into account recommendations from the group convened by CBE, as well as recommendations from other interested individuals. In addition to addressing the traditional content of history studies, the standards documents from NCHS share a treatment on Historical Thinking, which includes such standards as Chronological Thinking and Historical Comprehension.
There are a number of other useful resources available for the articulation of standards in a history curriculum. One document is Lessons From History: Essential Understandings and Historical Perspectives Students Should Acquire (Crabtree, Nash, Gagnon, & Waugh, 1992), a comprehensive description of K-12 history education. It was on the basis of this noteworthy work that NCHS was funded to develop national standards. Another well-received guide is Building a History Curriculum: Guidelines for Teaching History in the Schools (Bradley Commission on History in the Schools, 1988). Although this document is general in scope, it does offer a useful focus on the historical perspective that students should acquire in their study of history. Recently the National Council for History Education published the first in a planned series of standards documents, Building a U.S. History Curriculum: A Guide to Using Themes and Selecting Content. Companion booklets in western civilization and world history will be published in the next two years, as well as a guide for history in the early grades. Three companion documents will be published in the next two years: booklets in western civilization and in world history and a guide for history in the early grades.
Other useful documents include two works from NAEP: Framework for the 1994 National Assessment of Educational Progress U.S. History Assessment (n.d.) and Provisional Item Specifications for U.S. History (1992). As in other recent work from NAEP, the framework organizes its subject matter into themes such as Change and Continuity in American Democracy, The Gathering and Interactions of Peoples, Cultures and Ideas, and The Changing Role of America in the World. The framework recommends some preliminary achievement levels (basic, proficient, and advanced) at 4th, 8th, and 12th grades. The descriptions of subject matter are fairly general. For example, an 8th-grade student at the basic level should, among other things, "have a beginning understanding of the fundamental political ideas and institutions of American life, and their historical origins" (p. 38). The Item Specifications, however, provide a greater level of detail in "defining questions," organized by theme, for students at the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades.
English Language Arts
In the language arts, the Standards Project for the English Language Arts (SPELA) was initially supported by the Fund for Improvement and Reform of Schools and Teaching (FIRST) of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Initiated in September of 1992, SPELA was designed to be a three-year collaborative effort of the Center for the Study of Reading (CSR), the International Reading Association (IRA), and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). SPELA produced one complete draft of its standards entitled Incomplete Work of the Task Forces of the Standards Project for the English Language Arts (1994). That draft contained five strands (Reading/Literature, Writing, Language, Real World Literacy, and Interconnections), each listing two or three standards described at a general level. This draft was to go through a number of iterations until a final document was produced. However, on March 18, 1994, the U.S. Department of Education notified SPELA that it would not continue funding for the project. According to NCTE, funding for the project was halted because of a number of "philosophical differences" between SPELA and the Department of Education. These differences included a disagreement over the inclusion of delivery standards, which was supported by SPELA, and the lack of attention to a specific canon of children's literature, which was not supported by SPELA. However, the primary reason for cessation of funding appears to be the federal government's assertion that SPELA was not attending to the basic task of identifying what students should know and be able to do in the English language arts. As noted by Janice Anderson, interim director of FIRST at the time funding was halted, SPELA had not made "substantial progress toward meeting the objectives" of the project. The proposed standards, she stated, "are vague and often read as opinions and platitudes," focus too much on process rather than content, and lack "a coherent conceptual framework" ("NCTE/ IRA Say Standards Effort Will Continue," The Council Chronicle, June 1994).
NCTE and IRA vowed to complete the project even without federal support and produced an incomplete draft entitled Standards for the English Language Arts (NCTE, October 1995). That draft articulated 11 very general standards but did not address benchmarks at different developmental levels. As in the case with the SPELA document, this later effort met with criticism due to its lack of specificity. According to an article in Education Daily, the eleven standards that the IRA and NCTE drafted "deliberately say little more than that students should be able to read a wide range of texts and write effectively using various strategies. . . .The document elaborates on each standard, but doesn't break down specific competencies students should show at various grade levels, as do standards in other disciplines." (Education Daily, October 25, 1995, p. 1). The final version of their work, Standards for the English Language Arts, published in 1996, contains 12, rather than 11, standards and includes other modifications. Companion works, such as the Standards in Practice series, provide information from which benchmarks for each standard can be inferred.
Although its efforts were not designed to produce standards per se, the National Assessment of Educational Progress has produced a number of documents that provide guidance as to the nature and format of English language arts standards. For example, the Writing Framework and Specifications for the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress (n.d.) provides explicit descriptions of basic, proficient, and advanced performance in writing. These level descriptions can quite easily be translated into expectations about what students should know and be able to do in the area of composition. In the area of reading, the Reading Framework for the National Assessment of Educational Progress: 1992-2000 (n.d.) not only provides a detailed description of what students should know and be able to do at various grade levels but also details the types of materials students should be able to read.
The topic of media literacy has received greater emphasis recently in K-12 schooling, in part because of efforts like those of the National Communication Association's Competent Communicators: K-12 Speaking, Listening, and Media Literacy Standards and Competency Statements (1998). Useful material for the development of standards and benchmarks has also appeared from a number of international organizations, ranging from the Australian Education Council to the British Film Institute and the Ontario Ministry of Education.
Standards for the arts, prepared under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, were published in 1994 by the Consortium of National Arts Education Associations. The design of the final document, What Every Young American Should Know and Be Able to Do in the Arts, has been greatly simplified over earlier drafts. Standards for dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts are organized into K-4, 5-8, and 9-12 grade clusters. Each field contains from six to nine content standards, articulated across all grade clusters. Within each grade cluster for a given content standard, several achievement standards are provided. For example, in the visual arts section, a content standard found within each grade range, "Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures," has three achievement standards associated with it for the 5-8 level. One such achievement standard states, "Students know and compare the characteristics of art works in various eras and cultures."
In addition, NAEP, working closely with the authors of the national standards for the arts, has developed an Arts Education Assessment Framework (1994). For dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts, the framework describes the learning expected of students in (1) knowledge and understanding about the arts and (2) perceptual, technical, expressive, and intellectual/reflective skills. The assessment framework is a matrix in which the knowledge and skills for each discipline form one axis and the application of this knowledge and skill forms the other. Application in the arts is defined as students creating, performing, or responding to the arts.
The Center for Civic Education (CCE) has published National Standards for Civics and Government (1994). The standards are presented for K-4, 5-8 and 9-12; major areas organize some 70-plus content standards. Each content standard has associated with it a set of key concepts that students should know in order to meet the standard. The standards are organized into five areas: civic life, politics, and government; the foundations of the U.S. political system; the values and principles of U.S. constitutional democracy; the relationship of U.S. politics to world affairs; and the role of the citizen. Each area is presented as a question, and each of the five outermost questions (e.g., What is government and what should it do?) has more specific questions that organize the content standards beneath them (e.g., What are major ideas about the purposes of government and the role of law in society?). The CCE has also produced a source book of impressive scope and detail, Civitas: A Framework for Civic Education (Quigley & Bahmmeller, 1991), which contains more than 600 pages of information about civics.
In addition, the NAEP Civic Consensus Project, drawing heavily on the National Standards for Civics and Government, has produced the Civics Framework for the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress (n.d.). The framework outlines preliminary descriptions of three levels of achievement-basic, proficient, and advanced-for civic knowledge and skills that students should possess at grades 4, 8, and 12.
Economics was included as a core subject in the Goals 2000 Educate America Act. In April 1995, however, the Department of Education decided not to provide grant money to assist the National Council on Economic Education (NCEE). Nevertheless, NCEE continued work with funding from private sources and has recently published Voluntary National Content Standards in Economics (1997). As anticipated, the work closely follows A Framework for Teaching Basic Economic Concepts with Scope and Sequence Guidelines, K-12 (Saunders & Gilliard, 1995). Twenty standards are identified, each supplied with a rationale. Organized beneath the standards at 4th, 8th, and 12th grades are benchmarks; these are paired with descriptions of what students can do to demonstrate their understanding of the benchmarks. The standards are available in Virtual Economics: An Interactive Center for Economic Education /Version 2.0, a CD-ROM that includes an extensive library of activities, lessons, and other resources that are hypertext linked to the content standards.
The development of standards for foreign language was undertaken by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) in partnership with a number of foreign language associations. Funded by a grant from the Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project published National Standards for Foreign Language Education (1996). The standards are organized under five goal areas for students: communicate in languages other than English (Communication), gain knowledge and understanding of other cultures (Culture), connect with other disciplines and acquire information (Connections), develop insight into own language and culture (Comparisons), and participate in multilingual communities (Communities). The communication area contains three standards; other goals contain two standards each-for a total of eleven standards, which are articulated at three levels: K-4, 5-8, and 9-12. A rationale statement follows each goal and standard. Sample progress indicators are provided for each goal by level.
In 1999 the standards were republished as standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century, complemented by nine language-specific standards for Chinese, Classical Languages, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. The language-specific content serves to explicate the original standards, providing language-specific examples for the learning scenarios and progress indicators that accompany the standards.
Other work that provides useful information related to foreign language learning comes from the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL). The ESL Standards for Pre-K-12 Students (1998) describes three overall goals that address personal, social, and academic uses of English. Under each goal are organized three standards. Each standard is provided with descriptors, progress indicators, vignettes, and discussions at three grade clusters: pre-K-3, 4-8, and 9-12.
The Geography Education Standards Project has published Geography for Life: National Geography Standards (1994). The document provides 18 standards articulated for grades K-4, 5-8, and 9-12. The standards are organized under six areas: The World in Spatial Terms, Places and Regions, Physical Systems, Human Systems, Environment and Society, and The Uses of Geography. At each grade level, a standard is defined by three to six activities, each of which is exemplified by three "learning opportunities," that is, activities described at a greater level of detail than the standard. Certainly the most visually interesting of the standards documents, with numerous high-quality photographs and illustrations on glossy paper, it reflects indebtedness to one of the codevelopers on the project, the National Geographic Society.
The writing committee of the Geography Standards Project, in addition to the consensus process, relied chiefly upon two sources for their material. The first, Guidelines for Geographic Education (Joint Committee on Geographic Education, 1984), provides an instructional framework for teaching and learning geography by structuring content around five themes: Location, Place, Human-Environmental Interaction, Movement, and Regions. The second, NAEP's Geography Assessment Framework for the 1994 National Assessment of Educational Progress (1992), uses material from the five themes to develop three content areas for assessment: Space and Place, Environment and Society, and Spatial Dynamics and Connections. The assessment framework recommends the development of questions that measure students' cognitive abilities "at a basic Knowing level, a more complex Understanding level, and an Applying level that covers a broad range of thinking skills" (p. 3). This three-tiered approach, together with three content areas, forms a matrix within which essential assessment questions are developed.
Another source for detailed information on geography comes from NAEP's Item Specifications (1992) for the 1994 Assessment. This document provides some detailed descriptions as to the basic, proficient, and advanced levels of achievement in geography. For example, "Eighth grade basic" means that students should be able to, among other things, "solve fundamental locational questions using latitude and longitude; interpret simple map scales; identify continents, oceans, and selected countries and cities. . . ."(p. 54). The Item Specifications provide greater levels of detail in terms of how cells in the NAEP matrix might be developed.
The Joint Committee on National Health Education Standards, funded by the American Cancer Society, has published National Health Education Standards: Achieving Health Literacy (1995). The committee developed seven standards, each with rationale statements and "performance indicators" for students at grades K-4, 5-8, and 9-11. The material is organized both by standards and by grade levels. The work includes a set of "opportunity to learn" standards designed to provide direction for the policies, resources, and activities that should facilitate the implementation of the health education standards. In addition, a table is provided that maps the topics covered in the health standards to related adolescent risk behaviors.
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) has published Moving into the Future: National Standards for Physical Education: A Guide to Content and Assessment (1995). The report lists seven standards with benchmarks at grades K, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12. These grade-level descriptions of the standards include rationale statements, sample benchmarks, and assessment examples. The assessment examples are quite extensive, providing numerous ideas for student and group projects and for student portfolios, all with suggested criteria for assessment. Standards from the self-funded group were based on NASPE's 1992 publication, Outcomes of Quality Physical Education Programs.
The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) has published Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (1994). As the title indicates, NCSS recognizes a distinction between content and curriculum. It describes this distinction by noting that the role of the social studies is to provide "overall curriculum design and comprehensive student performance expectations, while the individual discipline standards (civics and government, economics, geography, and history) provide focused and enhanced content detail" (p. viii). The document underscores this organizing role of curriculum standards through the elaboration of 10 "thematic strands" such as Culture, Time, Continuity and Change, and Individual Development and Identity. Each theme is provided with a list of student performance expectations and classroom activities appropriate for the early grades, middle grades, and high school. Across all 10 strands, 241 performance expectations are described. A useful appendix provides "essential skills for social studies," organized under the categories of Acquiring Information, Organizing and Using Information, and Interpersonal Relationships and Social Participation. Each area is defined by goal statements and a "suggested strength of instructional effort" (i.e., minimum or none, some, major, and intense) toward reaching those goals at levels K-3, 4-6, 7-9, and 10-12.
In 1996, the International Technology Education Association (ITEA), funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, published Technology for All Americans: A Rationale and Structure for the Study of Technology. Following four years of a review and revision process, ITEA published Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (2000). As the title suggests, and the preface makes clear, these standards address "what students should know and be able to do in order to be technologically literate" (p. vii). The twenty standards comprise five broad categories on the nature of technology, technology and society, understanding of design, abilities needed in a technological world, and understanding the designed world. Each standard is provided with an introductory narrative, as are the grade-level benchmarks, which describe content appropriate for the grade range. Benchmarks are provided for each of the standards at the K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12 grade levels.
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has published National Educational Technology Standards for Students: Connecting Curriculum and Technology (2000). The ISTE work provides ten performance indicators for each grade band, K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. The indicators are assigned to one or more of the following six broad categories: basic operations and concepts; social, ethical, and human issues; technology productivity tools; technology communication tools; technology research tools; and technology problem-solving and decision-making tools. A significant portion of the report is focused on providing curriculum examples of effective use of technology in teaching and learning. An activity and list of resources is provided at each grade range for each of the five subject areas of English language arts, foreign language, mathematics, science, and social studies.
The World of Work
Progress is also being made in delineating the knowledge and skills students should have to be successful and productive in the world of work. The Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) and the report the commission produced, What Work Requires of Schools (1991), has helped to focus attention on standards that address higher-order thinking and reasoning skills, as well as personal traits and interpersonal skills that students should acquire. This document adds a strong voice to the call from other standards groups for greater attention to the development of students' critical thinking skills, their ability to communicate, and their ability to work in groups.
A complementary effort was undertaken by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), representing "50,000 practitioners, managers, administrators, educators and researchers in the field of human development" (Carnevale, Gainer, & Meltzer, 1990, p. xiii). An ASTD research team, funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, reviewed the literature and polled its members to determine what skills were most desired by employers. The team identified 16 skill areas, including traditional academic areas such as reading, writing, and computation, as well as nontraditional areas such as interpersonal skills, self-esteem, and negotiation. Their findings were published in Workplace Basics: The Essential Skills Employers Want (Carnevale, Gainer, & Meltzer, 1990).
Finally, the National Business Education Association has published National Standards for Business Education: What America's Students Should Know and Be Able To Do in Business (1995). The standards cover a wide range of subjects, including marketing, management, accounting, production, and finance as well as basic skills in computation, communication, decision-making, and problem solving.
Organizations outside the United States have also contributed to the definition of content for the curriculum. Material from three of these organizations has been cited in this report.
The International Baccalaureate Organization, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, has some 1000 participating schools in over 100 countries throughout the world. Examinations for the International Baccalaureate (IB) are based upon a rigorous and comprehensive syllabus. The IB diploma is recognized and accepted by universities worldwide.
The Australian Education Council has produced a number of documents as part of an effort it describes as the most significant collaborative curriculum development project in the history of Australian education. Two documents were found to be of particular use, English: A Curriculum Profile for Australian Schools and Technology: A Curriculum Profile for Australian Schools.
The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), a large-scale, cross-national comparative study of math and science curricula, has made available the set of items used in their mathematics and science assessment of students. The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) has published TIMSS Mathematics Items: Released Set For Population 1 (Third and Fourth Grade) (1998a); TIMSS Mathematics Items: Released Set For Population 2 (Seventh and Eighth grade) (1998b); Released Mathematics and Science Literacy Items Population 3 (1998c).
Work on the development of academic standards, undertaken by just a few states in the early 1990s, has increased dramatically. According to a recent review of state standards from the American Federation of Teachers (1999), "the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and every state except Iowa have set or are setting common academic standards for students" (p. 5). The quality of state standards has been under sharp scrutiny in the last few years, not only in reviews from AFT but from the Council for Basic Education (1998a) and the Fordham Foundation (Finn & Perilli, 2000). Although these organizations have awarded markedly different ratings for the same state standards (Olson, 1998), they do appear to be in agreement that state standards have improved over the last few years, but each notes that a number of state standards could still be improved.
Efforts continue in the development and refinement of standards. For most subject areas, there is one or more set of standards published by a nationally recognized group of subject-area experts. In addition, almost all states have published standards in the subject areas. One can infer that if a school, district, or state is to design a schooling system based on standards, these many and varied efforts must be reconciled to some degree.
1NAEP ("the nation's report card"), a nationally representative assessment of student knowledge in various subject areas, is a congressionally mandated project of the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Department of Education; NAEP's policy guidelines are formulated by the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB). Return to referring citation.