Standards for Learning

Learning standards define the knowledge, concepts, and skills that students should acquire at each grade level. In other words, learning standards are the goals for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. Students who demonstrate acquisition of grade-level goals are considered proficient. Generally, each state establishes its own definition of proficiency. In an effort to have consistency in learning standards across the nation and help ensure all students are prepared to graduate from high school with the skills they need to succeed, numerous states and territories adopted a set of standards known as the Common Core State Standards (Common Core State Standard Initiative, n.d.). Forty-one states, the District of Columbia, four out of five territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the Common Core State Standards for English language arts/literacy and math. As of 2019, Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia have not adopted the Common Core State Standards. Whether or not educators work in a state that has adopted Common Core State Standards, having clear learning standards is a critical component of assessment, because they serve as unbiased outcome variables for education. Having concrete and well-defined expectations, such as learning standards, allows educators to work backward and design the most effective tools to measure the intended outcome, such as grade-level proficiency. All teachers should be familiar with their respective state learning standards as well as summative assessment practices used within the state to assess for proficiency of these standards. Additionally, teachers should develop their own formative assessment practices to obtain ongoing information related to student progress towards these standards.

Box 10.1 Common Core and Other Standards

Concerns and Opportunities: Common Core State Standards for Young Children

Common Core standards continue to be debated, especially for young children in preschool and kindergarten. Many early childhood educators fear that standards may be too rigorous and not developmentally appropriate, forcing teachers to reduce play and enriching classroom experiences. Similarly, some believe that instruction may become drill focused, reducing opportunities for naturalistic, language-rich conversations, leading children to become less engaged in their learning. However, some educators argue that developing curriculums that align with Common Core standards lead to noticeable increases in students’ abilities to think critically and work collaboratively. Although educators will likely continue to debate on this topic, what seems to be a common factor for educational success is extensive resources allocated to professional development to help teachers.

Assessment Practices

As previously mentioned, it is important to identify the purpose of assessment in order to select appropriate methods of assessment. Similarly, it is important to consider the target behavior, skill, or ability as well as developmental factors. There are many methods of assessment, including observations, direct tests, and rating scales. Each of these methods is discussed in detail in the second section of this chapter. It is advised that various methods be used, as some students may perform differently depending on the assessment method. Consider a second- grade student who has test anxiety; that student is likely to perform poorly on direct tests of reading, but may do better when observed by the teacher during paired reading time in class. Conversely, a child with ADHD may appear to be off-task and not have mastered specific math skills based on teacher observations during small group instruction; however, when given a direct test of math skills in a one-on-one setting, the student may perform exceptionally well. Although the student with ADHD may be hyperactive and have difficulty directing his attention to complete academic tasks in larger groups, a one-on-one setting reduces the amount of distracting stimuli in the environment and may allow the student to better direct his attention to academic tasks.

In addition to determining the method of assessment, timing of assessment should also be considered. Assessment can be conducted at various time intervals; the frequency of assessment should be guided by the purpose and goals of assessment. Being familiar with development and research related to the time it takes to develop specific skills may also help guide the frequency of assessment. Assessment can be most helpful when it is administered at consistent intervals; however, these intervals may vary and include daily, weekly, quarterly, or annually. Consider a struggling reader who just moved to the school, and is very far behind peers in regards to sight word recognition skills. The education team selects an intervention strategy to help him catch up to his peers. Given the importance of this skill, the child’s ability, and knowledge of age-appropriate expectations for words read correctly per minute, the team selects to assess sight word recognition skills daily. In contrast, a child with special needs receiving a six-week social-skills intervention may be assessed prior to the intervention and during the last week of the intervention to determine gains in social skills.

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