The Missing Element of Standards Reform

Andy Porter
Thursday, June 16, 2016


Twenty20

Why, after 20 years, has standards-based reform not had the effects on student achievement that were originally anticipated? Were the content standards not as good as they needed to be? Were the tests not as good nor as well-aligned to the standards as necessary? There is evidence to support both these theories, but neither shortcoming explains the huge gap between our hopes for student achievement and our actual accomplishments.

Over the last two decades, the bulk of education reform has been devoted to content standards and student achievement testing. Perhaps that is because standards and tests are relatively easy to produce and distribute. And they are inexpensive, capturing much less than 1% of the total cost of K-12 education. Indeed, excellent standards and tests are absolutely essential for the success of standards-based reform. Unfortunately, they are not nearly enough.

We at C-SAIL hypothesize that the lack of anticipated effects on student achievement of standards-based reform is due, first and foremost, to the lack of attention given to supporting teachers in implementing the standards in their classrooms.

The lack of anticipated effects on student achievement is due, first and foremost, to the lack of attention given to supporting teachers in implementing the standards in their classrooms.

The new college- and career-readiness standards, of which Common Core State Standards are the best known example, are generally more rigorous than the various state standards they have replaced. And assessment of student achievement continues to be done with increasing quality, though alignment to the standards remains a challenge. But even states’ college- and career-readiness standards are documents that must be studied and internalized if they are to guide teachers to make meaningful instructional change. For their part, student achievement tests, if well-aligned to the standards, can monitor student performance and they can identify where achievement is low, but they fall far short of providing the guidance that teachers need.

The real work that must be done in standards-based reform is teachers implementing the standards faithfully in their classrooms for each of their students, including English language learners (ELLs) and students with disabilities (SWDs). For new standards to be successful in driving student achievement, we need an education system that finds ways to support teachers in this challenging and difficult work.

We at C-SAIL believe that standards-based reform has typically stopped at the classroom door, and because of that, has not realized its full potential. To address this shortcoming, we are building an intervention – Feedback on Alignment and Support for Teaching (FAST) – which will soon provide real time feedback to teachers on the alignment of their instruction for students, including ELLs and SWDs, to college- and career-readiness standards, and support so that teachers can take corrective action where appropriate.

As part of the FAST intervention, teachers work with a virtual coach individually and in grade-level collaborative study teams to improve (or maintain) alignment of their instruction and assessments to their state’s standards. 

As part of the FAST intervention, teachers work with a virtual coach individually and in grade-level collaborative study teams to improve (or maintain) alignment of their instruction and assessments to their state’s standards.  In order to gather information on instruction and assessment practices, teachers complete instructional logs, video record their classroom instruction, and submit assessments they give their students. During the coaching sessions, teachers and coaches review reports of teachers’ instruction and assessment practices, determine areas for increased alignment to state standards, examine relevant resources from the project’s online library of aligned curricular resources, and identify actionable steps for continued improvement.  In addition, teachers and coaches discuss ways of using scaffolding to provide grade-level instruction to ELLs and SWDs and how those scaffolds may be removed over time to support mastery of the standards.

Our FAST intervention is based on what has been learned from research on effective professional development and directly addresses the shortcomings of past and present efforts at standards-based reform. We anticipate dramatic positive effects on student achievement from our intervention that is designed so that it can be taken to scale with integrity and at acceptable costs. We hope others will join us in efforts to build approaches to support teachers to provide quality instruction that is aligned to challenging college- and career-readiness standards.