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The Benefits of Standards-Based Instruction

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Standards-based instruction allows teachers and students to be on the same page by specifying how teachers and students will meet their education goals, including specific concepts, order, or instructional materials (Krueger & Sutton, 2001). Because the national science standards are voluntary and do not prescribe a single approach to teaching science, it is up to the individual local educational entities to determine the science content organization, focus, and delivery (Krueger & Sutton, 2001).

An example showing the value of standards-based instruction at the state level is Ohio's Academic Content Standards, which aim for a high and deep level of student understanding. These standards articulate the higher levels of learning for which teachers, schools, and districts are being held accountable through measures such as the expectations for a 21st century education, state testing, and report cards. By aligning classroom instruction and assessment with the standards, teachers can ensure that their students will meet these high demands. Teachers have the tools they need to track student performance and can plan focused instruction to meet the specific needs of all students.

An example showing the value of standards-based instruction at the school level is a Lesson Study team from Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) in Michigan. Through Lesson Study, teachers see first-hand the reasons why standards-based instruction is effective.

Photo of Eric DreierEric Dreier, science coordinator for TCAPS, discusses the strong need to align national curriculum with state standards and the developmental level of students. [Video: :25]

According to the ENC Focus issue titled "Looking Into a Standards-Based Classroom" (Eisenhower National Clearinghouse, 2004), a standards-based science classroom should have four embedded central strategies:

In standards-based instruction, standards delineate what matters, provide clarity and a fixed point of reference for students and teachers, guide instruction so that it is focused on student learning, provide a common language to have conversations, help ensure equal educational opportunities, assist in identifying struggling students, and meet federal guidelines (Ohio Department of Education, n.d.). At the Secretary's Summit on Science, Barbara Morgan, a teacher-astronaut, stated that standards provide a strong focus for learning:

"I think the standards have helped focus the curriculum so that there is more across the schools and up and down the grade levels. We have an understanding of the content we want kids to learn, but I think we have a long way to go in how the students best learn it and how we get them excited about learning." ( U.S. Department of Education, 2004a)

Demonstrating student learning is a complex task for teachers. Teachers need professional development opportunities to develop their own understanding of science and their understanding of how students learn science. Although standards help educators take a step towards a set of common goals, these statements do not tell teachers if the standards are effective nor do they provide guidelines for effective instruction. Appropriate professional development is necessary to support teacher learning that focuses on student outcomes.

Photo of Kathy JohnstonKathy Johnston, a fourth-grade mathematics and science teacher at Oak Park Elementary School in Michigan, talks about Lesson Study as a professional development approach that helps her see students learning and enables her to develop instructional strategies to advance student understanding. [Video: :30]

Standards-based reform has many curricular and instructional prerequisites. According to Stanovich and Stanovich (2003), teachers are required to use specific knowledge and skills to know what works in science education:

"The curriculum must represent the most important knowledge, skills, and attributes that schools want their students to acquire because these learning outcomes will serve as the basis of assessment instruments. Likewise, instructional methods should be appropriate for the designed curriculum. Teaching methods should lead to students learning the outcomes that are the focus of the assessment standards." (p. 1)

Knowing what works in education requires teachers be knowledgeable about research- based materials. The What Works Clearinghouse was established in 2002 by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences to provide educators, policymakers, researchers, and the public with a central and trusted source of scientific evidence of what works in education. The clearinghouse currently is featuring research studies on mathematics middle school curricula, with science to follow next.



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