ISSUE: Many educators and advisory groups emphasize high standards as an important factor in improving the quality of education for all students. As a result, schools and districts are looking at ways to develop a high-quality curriculum that is based on standards. An important starting point for this effort is a carefully thought-out curriculum framework that reflects the standards and goals for which the education community is willing to be held accountable. Developing a standards-based curriculum requires changes in the way teachers teach and schools are run, so care must be taken to build capacity for all educators and to provide adequate time for implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the curriculum. The curriculum-development process also should provide opportunities for reflection and revision so that the curriculum is updated and improved on a regular basis.
OVERVIEW: According to Marzano and Kendall (1996), many educators consider the publication of A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) as the "initiating event of the modern standards movement." With the passage of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act in 1994, U.S. lawmakers acknowledged the importance of high standards in improving education. Since that time, the call for higher standards has come from all areas: administrators, teachers, teachers unions, state-level and national-level educational organizations, business and community leaders, parents, and students.
The push for standards has guided change efforts at all levels of education and has brought about positive results. "The standards-based movement in America is on solid footing and is slowly but surely changing the way we think of teaching and learning in America's classrooms," notes the American Federation of Teachers (1999). "Nearly three-fourths of the teachers who have worked with standards for at least six years say the standards have had a positive impact on their schools." (p. 12). Ravitch (1995) adds, "Standards can improve achievement by clearly defining what is to be taught and what kind of performance is expected" (p. 25). Many efforts to improve education begin with the process of integrating standards into the curriculum.
Integrating standards into the curriculum is a complex endeavor that brings added dimensions to the curriculum-development process. Traditionally, the school curriculum provides a plan of instruction that indicates structured learning experiences and outcomes for students. It specifies the details of student learning, instructional strategies, the teachers' roles, and the context in which teaching and learning take place. More recently, however, the standards movement, research on teaching and learning, and research on the characteristics of successful schools have broadened the scope of curriculum to include everything that affects what happens in the classroom and consequently affects student learning. The process of integrating standards into the curriculum emphasizes learning and growth for all as the natural and desired outcome of reform in the schools. From that perspective, a standards-based curriculum includes not only goals, objectives, and standards, but everything that is done to enable attainment of those outcomes and, at the same time, foster reflection and revision of the curriculum to ensure students' continued growth. Curriculum development is most successful when educators collaborate with parents, community members, and students. In fact, all stakeholders need to share their expertise in creating a curriculum based on high standards for student learning.
"The idea behind standards-based reform is to set clear standards for what we want students to learn and to use those academic standards to drive other changes in the system," notes the American Federation of Teachers (1999). In effect, development of a standards-based curriculum must be considered in the context of school reform, which includes not only curriculum, instruction, and assessment but also professional development, parent and community involvement, instructional leadership, and the use of technology and other resources. What goals or standards will the curriculum address? How will students demonstrate an understanding of these concepts or goals? How will technology be integrated into the curriculum to aid instruction? How will teachers be prepared and supported as they implement changes? These questions will be addressed as the curriculum is developed.
The process of integrating standards into the curriculum consists of four steps: developing a curriculum framework in the context of standards-based reform; selecting a curriculum-planning model that further articulates the standards-based reform outlined in the framework; building capacity at all levels of the educational system; and monitoring, reflecting upon, and evaluating the curriculum as teachers implement it in the classroom.
Developing a Curriculum Framework
The first step of integrating standards into the curriculum is developing a curriculum framework. Curriculum frameworks can be developed at the national, state, or district level. National frameworks include those written by national organizations (such as the Principles and Standards for School Mathematics developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the National Science Education Standards developed by the National Research Council). National frameworks come in a wide variety of formats and usually represent a specific content area.
State frameworks include those written by state departments of education (such as the Michigan Curriculum Framework developed by the Michigan Department of Education). State curriculum frameworks tend to be highly complex due to the multiple purposes, the variety of audiences, and the diversity of situations that must be addressed (Blank & Pechman, 1995). A comprehensive listing of national and state curriculum frameworks can be found in Developing Educational Standards.
District frameworks are those developed by local or regional school districts. Ideally at the local level, a curriculum committee is established to develop the standards-based curriculum and to address the broader concerns that will be reflected in the curriculum framework. This committee is made up of administrators, school board members, teachers and school staff, parents, students (when appropriate), and community members, but the majority should be school personnel. The goal of this committee is to develop a standards-based curriculum that will increase student learning and promote higher student achievement.
Rapids School District, Wisconsin Rapids, WI
The complexity of curriculum development
with a focus not only on classroom material to be covered but also on
standards, capacity building, and assessment can seem to be an overwhelming
task. To show how one school district navigated through this process and
to delineate the steps they took, the Wisconsin Rapids School District,
Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, is featured throughout this critical issue.
Donna Weber, principal of Grove Elementary School, and Martha Kronholm,
5th and 6th grade multiage teacher at Grove Elementary School, were members
of the curriculum-development team for the Wisconsin Rapids School District.
They share what they learned in their efforts to integrate standards into
In Wisconsin Rapids, a group of educators met to look at the current
science curriculum and develop a curriculum that would eventually integrate
the science standards. Donna Weber discusses the initial makeup of the
In Wisconsin Rapids, a group of educators met to look at the current science curriculum and develop a curriculum that would eventually integrate the science standards. Donna Weber discusses the initial makeup of the curriculum committee.
"Our science planning committee has been led by a group of district leaders: the director of curriculum and instruction, staff development personnel, key administrators, and the K-12 science coordinator. Science committee members consist of two groups: interested staff members who have volunteered their services, and teachers who are asked to serve on the committee due to their leadership abilities and expertise in the subject area of science. In addition, careful attention is given to make sure that all grade levels are represented on the committee."
The first task of the curriculum committee is to analyze the national standards and state standards that already are available and develop a common understanding of what components to include in the local curriculum framework. This framework can be as complicated or as simple as needed to guide the curriculum-development process. The breadth and scope of a framework document often depend on the size and diversity of the audience to be served by the framework.
After examining the national and state standards, the curriculum committee is responsible for adopting, adapting, or creating the standards to be emphasized in the curriculum framework. The committee needs to look at standards in a much broader context than simply guiding the content aspects of curriculum development. Because the process of integrating standards into the curriculum dictates changes in the way the school operates and teachers teach, the curriculum committee can determine specific components of curriculum frameworks to include in the local framework. These components may include an overview, content standards or expectations, performance expectations, use of technology, and professional development or instructional activities. As they determine the curriculum framework, committee participants must be willing to listen to and talk with other committee members, not just convince others about their own personal agendas.
in the Wisconsin Rapids School District have spent years working to
develop their science curriculum framework. In the process, they have
faced several challenges common to schools that are trying to improve.
Team members relate that part of their story.
Educators in the Wisconsin Rapids School District have spent years working to develop their science curriculum framework. In the process, they have faced several challenges common to schools that are trying to improve. Team members relate that part of their story.
"The meeting of these key individuals [curriculum planning committee] began approximately six years ago. The initial process began with study groups. The study groups read research including Project 2061: Benchmarks for Science Literacy, Science for All Americans, and other National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) publications. The first time that the district employed a process of mapping out a K-12 science framework, with the help of North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL), was approximately three years ago. The process has been a continual and evolving one ever since. We feel the work we have done, and are continuing to do, is a dynamic process. Our curriculum is a living, breathing document! The development of our curriculum framework began with hours and hours of frustrating and hard work from our secondary science teachers. It was soon evident that smooth progress would be hampered by a variety of issues and concerns. These included differences in opinion and philosophies between junior high and high school teachers, mediation of heated work sessions, trying to reach a consensus for grade-level groupings within our science curriculum, and resolving perennial issues of turfdom. Changes in leadership--at the science coordinator and director of curriculum and instruction levels--also contributed to the need of regrouping and refocusing. No one ever said that curriculum work was going to be easy."
Curriculum components should be selected on the basis of purpose and audience. A framework serving many purposes and a wide audience will be extensive and include many components. At the very least, framework development should investigate and delineate standards in the context of reform. These standards most certainly should include content standards, benchmarks, and performance standards. In addition, many groups choose to include curriculum guidelines for teacher knowledge and understanding that are aligned with the content standards.
Content Standards. Content standards are "broadly stated expectations of what students should know and be able to do in particular subjects and grade levels," notes the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (1999). The center adds, "An example of a language arts standard is: Fourth-grade students will be able to gather information for a report using sources such as interviews, questionnaires, computers, and library centers."
Marzano and Kendall (1996) have identified three categories of content standards: procedural, declarative, and contextual. Using these categories clearly demonstrates that those standards often labeled as process standards in many of the disciplines are in fact a legitimate portion of the content in a specific discipline and help define those content standards that are contextual in nature.
Benchmarks. As a rule, content standards that are described in general terms require more specific statements at each developmental level to facilitate integration into the curriculum. These statements that provide a more specific and a developmental look at each of the standards are often referred to as benchmarks. A benchmark is a "detailed description of a specific level of student performance expected of students at particular ages, grades, or developmental levels," notes the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (1999). "Benchmarks," add Marzano and Kendall (1996, p. 15), "describe the specific developmental components of the general domain identified by a standard."
"These [content standards] were developed after looking at a variety of publications, research articles, NSTA literature, state and national standards, and curriculum documents from other districts. Getting input from a variety of sources has helped us conceptualize an eclectic document of our very own. The benchmarks that we are in the process of creating add more specificity to the content standards and are written with the developmental levels of students in mind. Our benchmarks, now in first draft format, are written in grade-level groupings at the K-6 level. This is consistent with the Wisconsin state science standards and matches the developmental nature of science, which we strongly believe in. Creating our district's benchmarks has involved cross-referencing our state standards to our district curriculum's content standards. Key questions in benchmark development are continually being addressed, for example: What are the critical skills and knowledge that we want students to be able to know and to do? What is developmentally appropriate for students at these grade-level groupings?
Student Performance Standards. Student performance standards are "explicit definitions of what students must do to demonstrate proficiency at a specific level on the content standards," states the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (1999).
Marzano and Kendall (1996) state that a performance standard "describes a specific use of knowledge and skills; it is not a description of knowledge, but a description of some application of it" (p. 13). They give the following example of a performance standard used in conjunction with a content standard:
"A content standard in science might specify that students should understand the characteristics of ecosystems on the Earth's surface. The performance standard for that piece of declarative knowledge would specify the level of accuracy and the facts, concepts, and generalizations about ecosystems on the Earth's surface that a student must understand to be judged as having obtained a suitable level of achievement. It also would put that knowledge in some type of performance environment by stating that the information must be presented, for example, in the form of an essay, a simulation, or an oral report with accompanying graphics." (pp. 13-14)
Borthwick and Nolan (1996) explain: "Performance standards make content standards operational. They transform inert statements of content into active expectations for performance. They take the content standards an essential step further by giving meaning to the idea of meeting the standard." Borthwick and Nolan also define three components of performance standards: performance descriptions, samples of student work, and commentaries on student work.
Marzano and Kendall (1996) agree that "performance standards are a critical component of a comprehensive, standards-based approach to schooling," and they point out that "performance standards identify the environments in which that knowledge and skill should be demonstrated" (p. 14). They recommend that schools and districts begin by developing content standards and then define a "complementary set of performance standards" or performance tasks (p. 14). These tasks will grow and evolve as students and teachers learn more about the knowledge and skills needed to complete the task or attain the standard.
"The secondary teachers' initial planning sessions took place prior to the publication of state standards. Many of their first curriculum drafts included statements of what students should know or should understand instead of looking at what students should be able to do or what students should be able to perform. When the NCREL personnel became involved with the development of our Science Framework, they helped the secondary teachers work through a process to look for the big ideas of science. These big ideas, or strands, helped teachers to conceptualize a plan, or a road map, for our entire district. This road map focuses not only on what students should know. It focuses on what students should be able to do."
In addition to specifying the necessary tasks inherent in content standards, performance standards may be used for other purposes, including educator accountability and certification of individual achievement (McLaughlin & Shepard, 1995). These divergent purposes could call for entirely different types of performance standards. Performance standards for accountability and certification "must be articulated in the form of rules for translating assessment results into student-achievement categories," note McLaughlin and Shepard (1995, p. 36). They also suggest that performance standards should first be used to clarify students' application of the content standards and later can be used for educator accountability and certification purposes.
Guidelines for Teacher Knowledge and Understanding. To ensure that students achieve content standards--by attaining performance levels called for in the performance standards--framework designers may choose to include guidelines for teacher knowledge and understanding. These guidelines can provide suggested instructional techniques, recommended activities or learning experiences for students, specifications about teachers' content knowledge, and recommendations for instructional materials. Care should be taken, however, that these techniques or activities are viewed as suggestions less they limit teachers' rights and responsibilities to make pedagogical decisions based on the minute-to-minute and day-to-day needs of their students.
Darling-Hammond (1994) adamantly states that efforts to ensure high levels of student performance should demand that teachers know as much about students and learning as they do about content. Teachers' requisite knowledge base should include a wide variety of instructional strategies and understanding of when to use those strategies, a thorough grounding in current learning research and application of that research in the classroom, and a substantive assessment repertoire to monitor what students know and are able to do. This knowledge base presupposes structures and processes in place in the schools and in the teacher-preparation institutions that articulate high standards for teachers.
Another factor that can be addressed in the guidelines for teacher knowledge is the use of technology in the classroom. As rapid advances in technology dramatically change the world, the schools must prepare students to confidently use and benefit from these changes. Guidelines can provide teachers at all levels with suggestions for when and how to integrate the use of technology into their teaching so students will benefit.
While developing the district curriculum framework, the curriculum committee should keep in mind its audiences and purposes. The completed framework communicates to the larger public the goals, expectations, and standards for which the educational institution is willing to be held accountable. It serves as a guide for educators to use when planning the curriculum. It also provides guidance for teachers and administrators as they seek to increase student achievement and improve teacher practice. Finally, it serves as the basis for educational discourse and for further framework revision and development. When the framework is finalized, the curriculum committee can select a curriculum-planning model to determine the specific curriculum.
Selecting a Curriculum-Planning Model
The second step of integrating standards into the curriculum is selecting a curriculum-planning model. This model provides the foundation for the development of the specific curriculum. Bybee et al. (1990) describe how the specific details of the curriculum fit into the framework:
"A complete framework provides information needed to make decisions about the content, the sequences of activities, the selection of instructional strategies and techniques that are likely to be effective, appropriate assessment practices, and other specifics of the curriculum.... A framework is like the broad sketches of an architect's plan. The framework gives an initial picture of the program and is based on certain specifications. The architect's plan has to fulfill certain requirements. At the same time, the more specific details are left to the contractors and the carpenters. Everyone knows there will be modifications as the framework is developed and implemented, but there should be some fidelity to the original intentions, specifications, and design." (p. 86)
The quest for the attainment of high standards by all students in conjunction with current research on teaching and learning calls for a "customized approach (learning-focused) to education" rather than a "standardized approach ... (a sorting-focused system)," notes Reigeluth (1997, p. 204). From a curriculum-development perspective, such an approach necessitates knowing where each learning experience fits in a given unit or field of endeavor, as well as how all experiences and units fit in the big picture of what students should know and be able to do. Units and lessons are developed by considering all components of the curriculum framework and determining how the activities and strategies will help students understand necessary concepts and gain new skills to successfully meet district learning goals.
In many cases, the curriculum-planning model may be determined by the state or the district or even by the adopted curriculum materials. As a general rule, however, the usability of a planning model depends on whether it provides the guidance and impetus to answer the questions that enable student learning. Such models should provide the context and content for instruction and, at the same time, allow the flexibility for change. Such flexibility is needed when educators wish to apply current learning research and when community members and students are part of the curriculum-development process.
Thus, the new models for curriculum planning and development look much different from the lesson-plan formats and the scope-and-sequence documents traditionally used. The task is to find or design a model that informs, drives, and enables the attainment of high standards by all students in a customized fashion and to address developmental differences and differences in experience, prior knowledge, and interest that each student brings to the classroom. As Reigeluth (1997) points out:
"We need customization to replace standardization, in order to have an education system that is focused on learning (attaining high standards) rather than on sorting. This does not mean that the basic standards for faster learners should be different from those for slower learners; rather, it means that we should not expect all students to meet standards within the same time frames. Further rationale for this conclusion is provided by differences in developmental rates for learners of the same age, differences in opportunities to learn outside of school, differences in prior knowledge and skills, differences in interests, and many other factors." (p. 204)
Researchers have found that most curriculum-planning models fall into five categories of curriculum design. The appropriate design depends upon the learning goals or standards to be met. After teachers choose their model, they determine units of study for the units and lessons that will be taught.
One way to foster the curriculum-development process is to use the five models adapted from templates developed for Science T.R.E.E. (Teachers Reaching Educational Excellence), an instructional design tool from the North Central Mathematics and Science Consortium. Science T.R.E.E. design-team members (including teachers) developed the templates to be easily adapted to other content areas and grade levels as well as to address a broader context of curriculum design. Although these models are science based, they can easily be modified for any content area. The vision of these models is important in broadening the definition of curriculum planning and development, and thereby increasing teacher effectiveness and student learning. Each of these models ties together the planning of investigations (learning experiences), units of study, and the complete curriculum with the integration of standards.
The five Science T.R.E.E. models are:
These five models, as well as many others currently used in schools and districts, incorporate current learning research and provide opportunities for teacher reflection. The reflection component allows teachers to record and analyze the educational strategies that worked and the changes that need to be made in the classroom.
When curriculum development is a dynamic process involving the entire educational community, it is imperative that classroom teachers fully understand the latest teaching and learning research, the content standards and the knowledge required to meet those standards, and the student-performance levels required to demonstrate that students have learned what they need to have learned. High-quality curriculum-planning models can help those teachers develop professionally as they plan their time with the students.
Wisconsin Rapids, curriculum committee members kept in mind two educational
ideologies. They talk about how their philosophy influenced the curriculum
development as well as their exploration of different curriculum-planning
In Wisconsin Rapids, curriculum committee members kept in mind two educational ideologies. They talk about how their philosophy influenced the curriculum development as well as their exploration of different curriculum-planning models.
"Science is an active process, and science is for all students. These are principles that permeate our science curriculum. In addition, a blend of two ideologies pervades our Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools science curriculum: constructivism and developmentalism. The constructivist view is that all students come to learning tasks already well supplied with their own sets of knowledge, conceptions, and misconceptions. Developmentalism is a belief that rather than fitting the child to the curriculum, students are better served if the curriculum is fitted to the child's stage of development. The developmental approach to curriculum pays attention to the ways children grow and learn. By understanding children's abilities and capabilities, worthwhile educational activities for students can be planned. Our elementary curriculum is organized into developmental levels: grades K-2, 3-4, and 5-6. These levels match those found in NSTA's Pathways to the Science Standards. We appreciated the model entitled Science for all Students, which was provided by the Florida Department of Education. It offered specific examples of how science curriculum is put into practice. In addition, NCREL's Tree Templates were being developed about the same time as our curriculum was being written. This gave teachers a variety of choices for planning lessons in their classroom. During professional development sessions, our kindergarten through 6th- grade staff had the opportunity to select the template model that matched their teaching style and lesson-format preference."
In many schools, the nucleus of curriculum planning is formed by materials review, piloting, adoption, and implementation. In some cases, those adopted materials define the school's curriculum framework. Although many of these schools, teachers, and students are showing positive results due to the high quality of the newer materials and the intense and professional nature of their implementation plans, the ultimate goal still is to develop a curriculum based on the standards set by their community for their students. Curriculum planning, curriculum review and implementation processes, and alignment of materials with the standards by necessity must form a cohesive whole that enables teachers and students to perform at their highest levels. This goal is linked with the process of building capacity.
Building Capacity at All Levels of the Educational System
The third step in integrating standards into the curriculum is promoting capacity building at all levels of the educational system. Capacity building is any process that increases the capability of individuals to produce or perform; it enables all stakeholders to carry out their tasks to the best of their ability.
In the educational community, capacity building is not limited to teachers and administrators, nor does it relate only to increasing student learning and achievement. In the context of standards-based educational reform, capacity building is a multifaceted, systemic endeavor that involves the educators and the institution, the students and their parents, and the larger community of stakeholders. Research and practice demonstrate that changing the way education is done, as schools promote higher standards of performance and practice, requires new and different capacities for all stakeholders. Finding ways to build capacity for a variety of roles and for a broad-based group of individuals is the challenge.
Capacity building requires much more than traditional professional and personal development for administrators, teachers, and other school staff. Goertz, Floden, and O'Day (1996) note:
"If all students are to learn to new standards, not only teachers, but administrators, teacher educators, and other participants in the education system must change their roles and expectations. Educators, researchers, and policymakers are beginning to explore different ways to enhance the ability of the system and its teachers to improve student learning. But before they can design effective policies, policymakers must determine what capacities are needed and what mechanisms and strategies might foster their development. Most capacity-building strategies in education today are targeted on individual teachers and are designed to enhance their knowledge and improve their instructional skills through the provision of workshops and university courses. Yet, our data and that of other researchers suggest that the traditional model of professional development reflects a limited conception of the dimensions of teacher capacity necessary to support and sustain instruction reform and ignores the role of the school and other communities of practice in teacher learning and educational improvement."
The Wisconsin Rapids School
District provided capacity-building experiences in a variety of formats.
The Wisconsin Rapids School District provided capacity-building experiences in a variety of formats.
"During the implementation phase, several professional-development sessions were held. These large group sessions provided a forum where a common knowledge base and philosophical base could be discussed. Outside consultants--including Department of Public Instruction personnel and teacher leaders from within the state--were involved in these discussions. Small-group discussions within each of the elementary buildings followed the large group sessions. These study groups enabled individuals to question, reflect, and refine their understanding of the curriculum. Some individuals and teams of teachers designed classroom science lessons using our new curriculum and NCREL's Tree Templates. We felt that the Tree Templates would be one vehicle to share exemplary investigations [lessons]. Optional staff-development opportunities have also been structured in our district. Hands-on science classes and workshops were offered in the summer. Some of these classes had follow-up meetings that reinforced concepts learned and gave teachers additional time to reflect and to discuss curriculum issues."
A plan for capacity building initially should focus on bringing together school administrators and staff in a professional learning community. In such a community, all educators are united in their commitment to student learning. They share a vision, work and learn collaboratively, visit and review other classrooms, and participate in shared decision-making (Hord, 1997b). Eventually, this group may expand to include parents and members of the community. The long-term goals of the learning community are to enable educators and students to continue learning and growing, to empower educators to participate in decision making, to create a school culture of accountability built on respect, and to optimize the achievement of all students. Continued capacity building is contingent on the ability of educators to implement, monitor, and evaluate the curriculum.
Implementing, Monitoring, Reflecting Upon, and Evaluating the Curriculum
The final step of integrating standards into the curriculum consists of implementing the curriculum in the classroom and continued monitoring, reflection, and evaluation to improve it. Teachers are responsible for implementing the curriculum as it evolves and determining if it is having the desired effect on student learning. In their daily classroom activities, teachers keep data to monitor student progress and evaluate student performance. They take care to use a variety of assessment tools that are performance based instead of relying on standardized tests. Along with the curriculum committee, teachers use ongoing reflection to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the curriculum and to make needed changes. Evaluation can include the entire curriculum framework, the curriculum-planning model, and the teaching strategies used in the classroom. The ongoing goal is to improve the curriculum and raise student achievement.
Efforts to develop a curriculum framework that is built around standards and district learning goals, to develop quality curriculum based on that framework, and to empower stakeholders to carry out the activities to the best of their ability does not ensure that learning will take place. Attention also has to be given to the process of implementing the curriculum as it evolves and determining if it is having the desired effect on student learning. Changes to the framework, curriculum, and strategies used should be made if the desired results are not being achieved. Only if students are meeting performance standards is true education taking place.
To determine the quality of student learning, teachers and the curriculum committee can answer specific questions to determine the effectiveness of the curriculum. These questions could include:
Such questions enable all stakeholders to reflect on and evaluate the curriculum. If students are not meeting performance standards or if other desired results are not being achieved, teachers and the curriculum committee should determine what changes are needed.
If the curriculum-development process is to evolve continually, opportunities to reflect on and to question the effectiveness of the curriculum are essential. It is the responsibility of all stakeholders to participate in the evaluation process and determine whether students are attaining the standards set for them. Stakeholders should hold themselves accountable for doing their job and accepting this responsibility. The bottom line is what happens between teachers and students, yet everyone monitors the finish line.
Developing a curriculum framework based on standards and district learning goals, designing a curriculum-planning model based on that framework, empowering stakeholders to carry out the activities to the best of their ability, and ensuring continued monitoring and evaluation as the curriculum is implemented in the classroom are four steps in the process of integrating standards into the curriculum. The importance of these steps becomes more apparent when educators consider the impact of current learning in helping students gain the knowledge and skills they will need later to function as productive adults.
Some scientists are now predicting that by the year 2015, the amount of available knowledge will be doubling every two months. This figure has innumerable ramifications for curriculum-framework development that serves students who will be living and working in an unimaginable world of the future. Thus, it is imperative that curriculum development brings together a varied and knowledgeable group of individuals to guide the process and that the standards-based curriculum is updated and improved on an ongoing basis.
ACTION OPTIONS: The curriculum committee (comprising school board members, administrators, teachers, parents, grandparents, students, and community members representing all ethnic groups in the district) can take the following steps to integrate standards into the curriculum:
IMPLEMENTATION PITFALLS: Addressing the state of the current standards-based reform efforts in education, Meier (1996) uses the following metaphor:
"A horse and buggy is not at fault for not being able to go 60 miles an hour. Exhorting driver and horse to go faster or blaming them for having insufficiently high expectations is a futile exercise. What is needed is to invent the car. As a society we decided that everyone deserved the best . . . . But once we wanted everyone to have the 'best,' we had in effect told the horse and buggy to do the impossible." (p. 271)
Darling-Hammond (1990) states it another way: "American public schools designed for the 19th century are incapable of solving the problems that will face us in the 21st [century]" (p. 286). She adds that some people think "schools can be made to improve if standards are set and incentives established," but such reasoning is faulty because "[school people] work within a dysfunctional organizational structure that has made inadequate investments in the knowledge and tools they need to address students' needs" (p. 287). Prevalent in this dysfunctional organizational structure are many of the pitfalls for integrating content standards into the school curriculum: tracking, teacher shortages, lack of professional development, and time and financial concerns.
Tracking. The practice of tracking students is still used extensively in the United States. Proponents of tracking believe that grouping students by ability enables educators to better meet the needs of students. Opponents of tracking believe that this practice actually is harmful to the students placed in the non-college-bound classes because it typically provides a low-level curriculum taught by less-qualified teachers in a negative classroom environment. "These curricular differences also explain much of the disparity between the achievement of higher- and lower-income students and between the achievement of white and minority students," notes Darling-Hammond (1990, p. 289). For standards-based reform to provide all students with the opportunity to work with a challenging curriculum, the long-established tracking system in America's school will need to be abolished.
Teacher Shortages. Abolishing tracking and working to help all students meet district, state, and national standards will require well-trained, highly skilled, and knowledgeable teachers. Unfortunately, shortages of qualified teachers are most prevalent in high-poverty areas and in the subjects of math, science, special education, bilingual education, and foreign languages (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). Also, about 22 percent of new public school teachers leave the profession in their first three years (National Center for Education Statistics, 1994).
Professional Development. Those teachers who are remaining in the classroom, now more than ever, need professional development in the areas of standards-based curriculum, student learning and motivation, and specials-needs children. "Effective teaching, and especially teaching for higher-order understanding requires a range of teaching methods that have been found to be highly dependent on the extent and quality of training that teachers have received," notes Darling-Hammond (1990, p. 292).
Time and Financial Concerns. Further complicating this picture is that the resources of time and money are at a premium in American schools. Time and money are desperately needed to provide this ongoing professional development coupled with continuous support, to encourage high-quality people to remain in the teaching profession, and to purchase the curricular materials and the technology that support a standards-based curriculum.
That these pitfalls are interconnected is no surprise. The true reformation of our nation's schools cannot afford to be likened to forcing the horse and buggy to go faster. A standards-based curriculum based on the belief that all children can learn and achieve at a high level requires a systemic approach--in effect, a totally new car. Integrating standards into the curriculum is but one part of this new machine called educational reform.
DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW: As with any trend or movement in the field of education, standard-based reform has its critics. After spending more than seven years studying standards documents and related subject-area materials, Marzano and Kendall (1996) have documented a wide variety of criticisms of the standards movement brought to the public's attention by noted critics.
McLaughlin and Shepard (1995) question whether standards alone can make a difference in improving the quality of education:
"Serious questions have been raised about whether the standards movement is what is needed most to improve public education. Excellence in academic achievement requires more than setting goals and expecting students to meet them. What if reformers focused instead on the necessary conditions of a highly literate and well-educated nation? What conditions would foster high-level academic outcomes for most of our citizens? A respect within the general populace for intellect and its use? The guarantee of adequate educational resources? The availability of opportunities to use and benefit from high-level education? If these conditions prevailed, it is less likely that we would have to worry about students meeting high standards." (p. 12)
Berkson (1997) also questions whether national standards are needed. He claims that content standards are already in place for the top 25 percent of students and that those standards are enforced through the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), the American College Test (ACT), and the Advanced Placement exams given by the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, New Jersey. For the other 75 percent of students, he recommends testing for a national Basic Skills Certificate. He believes that passing such an exam will demonstrate students' mastery of basic academic skills to future employers and to institutions of higher education. In effect, he says, national and state content standards are not needed, and district standards are of nebulous value.
Others argue that the standards debate is about neither challenging content standards nor basic skill competencies. Lewis (1995) says that "technology is about to break up the education system as we know it" (p. 750). She states that "computers and other interactive resources now (or soon to be) available pose a serious challenge to educators because they make control over the scope and sequence of learning--the traditional role of the K-12 system--obsolete" (p. 750).
Clinchy (1996) notes that elementary and secondary schools often have difficulty integrating standards into the curriculum and restructuring themselves to prepare students for the 21st century because teachers are still required to teach an "outmoded, essentially 19th-century, almost entirely academic curriculum" (p. 269). He adds that these demands seem inappropriate because "institutions of higher education are not being required to 'reform' and 'restructure' themselves for the very same reasons" (p. 270). He suggests that if elementary and secondary schools have to prepare students for a traditional collegiate experience, K-12 reform efforts always will be thwarted.
Many classroom teachers worry that teacher and student accountability for the content dictated by district, state, and national standards will be based on standardized tests written to evaluate the teaching and learning of the curriculum. McLaughlin and Shepard (1995) note:
"If national content standards are used narrowly as 'test specifications' for national, state, or local accountability devices, teachers will then merely implement the test-defined curriculum rather than inventing instructional activities consistent with broad curriculum frameworks but responsive to their own students' learning" (p. 14).
In addition, McLaughlin and Shepard (1995) suggest that integrating national and state standards into a district's curriculum may usurp the local control that has been a hallmark of the U.S. public education system and, quite possibly, will lead to a highly specified national curriculum. They note that much of the opposition to standards reform is based on fear of losing the "flavor of the community" and "of undermining professional and local responsibility for student learning" (p. 13).
Ohanian (1996) believes that many educational-reform leaders are unable to recognize a high-quality curriculum:
"Essayist Will Cuppy once noted that penguins are dignified, they get their names in the newspaper, and only an expert can tell a live penguin from a stuffed one. Curriculum reform must be at the heart of any substantive change, but too many people who talk the talk of reform can't tell a live curriculum from a stuffed one" (p. 277).
Ohanian adds that setting high academic standards is good for students, but she worries that little is being said about what happens to the students who are not reading by third grade and who are not taking algebra or leading discussion groups in a foreign language by ninth grade. She believes that teachers must take children as they are and do the best job of educating them today: "If I teach them well today, this minute, tomorrow will take care of itself" (p. 279).
Finally, there is controversy about the terminology being used in this educational reform debate. "Even staunch supporters of national standards admit there is considerable confusion about the idea of a standard," notes Noddings (1997). "Some see a standard as a flag of sorts--something to rally around. Others see it as a goal to be reached, and still others see it as a description of various proficiency levels. In this last sense, a standard is a norm for quality control" (p. 184). For all stakeholders to share a common understanding and a common vision, there must be national, state, and district agreement on terminology such as standards, benchmarks, and grade-level expectations, and an understanding of their implications for students and teachers.
Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning
Standards at McREL
2550 S. Parker Road, Suite 500
Aurora, CO 80014
(303) 337-0990; fax (303) 337-3005
Contact: Janie Pollock
National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing
University of California at Los Angeles
Graduate School of Education and Information Studies
301 GSE&IS, Mailbox 951522
300 Charles E. Young Drive North
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1522
(310) 206-1532; fax (310) 825-3883
Contact: Joan Herman, Associate Director
National Center on Education and the Economy
700 11th St. N.W., Suite 750
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 783-3668; fax (202) 783-3672
Contact: Marc Tucker, President
Donna Weber, Principal
Grove Elementary School
471 Grove Ave.
Wisconsin Rapids, WI 54494
(715) 422-6136; fax (715) 422-6325
This Critical Issue was written by Cyntha Pattison and Nancy Berkas, program associates with the North Central Mathematics and Science Consortium at North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.
Date posted: 2000
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