ERIC Identifier: ED410230
Publication Date: 1996-11-00
Author: Marzano, Robert J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Assessment and Evaluation Washington DC.
Eight Questions about Implementing Standards-Based Education.
ERIC/AE Digest Series.
How state and district standards actually apply to local classroom learning,
achievement, and assessment is an issue which is of great importance to a myriad
of education officials. The goal of this digest is to present eight questions
which pertain to how standards-based education affects classroom instruction and
assessment at the local level. Various options and recommendations are provided
within this digest to help education officials discern the practical concerns of
WHERE WILL WE GET OUR STANDARDS?
1. Use the standards document produced by the corresponding state. Every
state except one is in the process of developing or has developed state
standards. Unfortunately, a study conducted by the American Federation of
Teachers (AFT) reports that only 13 of 49 state documents are specific enough to
be used effectively by teachers as a guide for classroom instruction or as a
measure of instructor accountability.
2. Use the national standards documents such as the one published by the
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) or by the federal government.
These documents contain a plethora of useful information about requisite
knowledge and skills. However, this material is usually embedded within lengthy
descriptions of performance activities, curriculum goals, instructional
3. Use studies that have attempted to synthesize the information in the
national standards and state standards documents. For example, the Mid-continent
Regional Educational Laboratory (McREL) created a database that provides a
synthesized version of the standards and benchmarks found in 85 national and
state level documents. The database is available in hard copy from ASCD or at
http://www.mcrel.org on the world wide web.
Use one of the inventory studies of national and state documents. These
studies can be employed to construct district level standards or to augment the
standards identified in the current state document.
WHO WILL SET THE STANDARDS?
1. Assign subject area teachers to identify the standards in their areas of
expertise. Since subject area teachers often work independently, they will
create standards that vary in format and levels of specificity. This differences
can cause problems when attempting to formulate a unified set of standards.
2. Ask committees of teachers and community members to set standards in
various content areas. Although community input is valuable, community members
frequently do not have enough proficiency in technical subject areas to
formulate appropriate standards. Additionally, some community members who
volunteer for a standards committee may have personal agendas that are
antithetical to the standards movement.
Organize a steering committee to guide the standards-setting efforts in the
district. This committee should be highly knowledgeable about the technical
aspects of standards. The committee should oversee the development of subject
area standards which, in the first instance, would be drafted by subject area
teachers. The steering committee should ensure that the standards produced by
the subject area specialists are written at the same level of generality and
employ the same format. The collective work produced by these specialists should
be considered the first draft of the district's standards. This draft would then
go through several reviews by both educators and other community members until a
final draft can be presented to the community at large.
WHAT TYPES OF STANDARDS SHOULD WE INCLUDE?
1. Construct content standards in traditional subject areas. These
traditional subject areas would be the core of the curriculum. Historically, the
basis for the standards movement at the national and local level has been a
description of essential knowledge and skills in these subject areas.
2. Establish standards in general reasoning skills. Reasoning skills, such as
decision making ability, and complex problem solving are typically included in
every subject area. However, they often are apt to remain unevaluated because of
their implied nature.
3. Create standards that deal with general behavior in the world of work.
Skills such as managing time effectively and managing resources are needed in
order to do well in the different subject areas. Nevertheless, these valuable
skills often do not factor into the creation of standards because they are not
addressed directly in each subject.
Establish subject area standards and general reasoning standards as the core
of the curriculum. Standards in the subject knowledge and reasoning skills
should be considered the most pertinent to the creation of standards. Although
proper work behavior can be made explicit and addressed in classroom
instruction, it should not carry the same weight as subject area and reasoning
IN WHAT FORMAT WILL THE STANDARDS BE WRITTEN?
1. Prepare standards and benchmarks as discrete elements of knowledge and
skills. This approach gives teachers both direction and flexibility in terms of
the specific knowledge and skills which they should address. However, teachers
may tend to teach specific benchmarks as isolated fragments of information
rather than integrated parts of a whole body of knowledge.
2. Prepare standards and benchmarks as specific performance activities or
performance tasks. This method provides teachers with specific guidance for how
students should apply knowledge. However, there are risks in using this method
which must be taken into consideration. First, the system can be forcefully
prescriptive in that the list of performance tasks or performance activities
becomes a mandated set of activities in which teachers and students must engage.
Also, the subject area knowledge that a performance task or performance activity
is intended to address might not always be obvious.
Write explicit standards and benchmarks as specific elements of knowledge and
skills but include examples of performance tasks or performance activities.
Using this technique, teachers are given some direction on how students can be
asked to apply their knowledge.
AT WHAT LEVELS WILL BENCHMARKS BE WRITTEN?
1. Write benchmarks at specified levels. The use of levels or intervals
communicates a clear hierarchy of knowledge and skills. Unfortunately, this
practice also implies that all assessment and reporting will be done at the
upper end of each interval.
2. Write benchmarks for each grade level. This method provides teachers with
a great deal of 'itemized' guidance regarding a clear hierarchy of knowledge and
skills that is grade level specific. Nevertheless, this approach does not work
well at the high school level where courses are the main organizational
3. Write benchmarks as course descriptions at various grade levels. This
approach works well at the high school level. Yet, this technique does not
clearly communicate a hierarchical structure of knowledge and skills at grade
levels below high school.
Write grade level benchmarks for grades K-8 and course descriptions for high
school. This approach allows for gauge both elementary schools within their own
structure. This approach allows elementary schools and high schools to describe
desired educational accomplishments in terms relevant to the hierarchical
structure of knowledge and skills at each level. However, education officials
must be certain that the high school course descriptions contain explicit
HOW SHOULD BENCHMARKS AND STANDARDS BE ASSESSED?
1. Use an externally developed test that employs traditional types of items.
These tests which are administered outside classroom instruction and have a
selected response format are easily machine scored. Yet, these often require a
great deal of time. Traditional selected response item formats also do not
usually require students to apply knowledge or demonstrate a deep understanding
of what they were expected to learn.
2. Use an externally developed test that employs performance tasks. The
advantages associated with performance tasks tests are that they ask students to
apply their knowledge in real-world scenarios and require students to
'construct' their own answers. A disadvantage is that these tests require much
time to complete as well as score.
3. Use assessment portfolios. Portfolios have commonly been thought to be a
viable way of having students demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of
content areas in an economical and holistic manner. Nonetheless, the use of
portfolios has proven to be both expensive and time consuming. Furthermore, the
research has indicated that portfolios are not capable of producing valid
representations of students' knowledge and skills within a subject.
4. Use a variety of frequent assessment techniques in the classroom. This
approach gives classroom teachers the responsibility for assessing their
students on standards and benchmarks. In this situation, teachers are free to
use a variety of assessment techniques; and assessment is integrated into
regular classroom routine. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee that teacher
assessments will be reliable and valid.
Use a variety of frequent assessment techniques as part of regular classroom
instruction as well as externally developed traditional tests and performance
tests administered to a sample of students at selected grade levels. The
external assessments may be used to ensure that teacher assessments are correct.
These assessments also may be used to compare performance of students in the
district to the performance of the students from the norming sample used to
develop the test.
HOW WILL STUDENT PROGRESS BE REPORTED?
1. Report student progress on standards as a score on a test. This approach
is straightforward and easily understood by parents. However, a single test
score for a subject area cannot represent the breadth of standards within that
2. Report student progress on standards such as grades in courses. The
problem with this approach is that a single grade cannot reflect the many
possible achievement profiles on multiple standards.
3. Report student progress on each standard using a rubric that describes
various levels of knowledge and skills. The advantage of this approach is that
it provides students, teachers, and parents alike with highly specific
information. The disadvantage is that parents who are accustomed to traditional
grading practices may react negatively to this very different way of reporting
Continue to give traditional grades in all courses but include a student
progress report using the standards that describe levels of performance for that
course. This will provide parents with a sense that the system as they knew it
is still functioning. The additional student progress report will provide
students and parents with highly specific and useful information about student
performance on standards in each course.
WHAT WILL WE HOLD STUDENTS ACCOUNTABLE FOR?
1. Do not hold students accountable for specific levels of performance on any
standards. This is the accountability system we currently have in place. In
virtually every state, the only standard students must meet to graduate is that
they obtain a certain number of "credits"; and a credit is earned by obtaining
at least a "D" in a course. This means that a student can graduate without
acquiring any specific skills and abilities.
2. Hold students accountable for all standards across all major subject
areas. This technique establishes high expectations for all students in all
major content areas. Nevertheless, many students who currently graduate would
not graduate if they were required to meet such high standards in a variety of
3. Hold students accountable for selected standards in selected content areas
considered "basic" by educators and the general public (e.g., reading, writing
and mathematics). This method establishes expectations for all students in those
content areas that are considered truly essential. This increase in expectations
probably will also lessen the number of students who graduate. However,
educators must be aware of the possibility that the expectations might devolve
into a set of minimum competencies which do not challenge students.
Hold students accountable for standards in those content areas considered
'basic' by diverse stakeholders in a particular school district; and articulate
standards in other areas not considered basic. Students' standings relative to
those standards should be reported. This dual approach should be considered an
interim step which will eventually lead to student and teacher accountability
for attainment of content knowledge and performance levels embedded within a
common set of consensus standards.
The establishment of educational standards can
have a great impact on local school systems. These eight issues are among those
that state and local education officials should address. In addition to the
issues previously described, education policy makers must be sure that they base
their decisions about standards upon the needs of the communities which they
Benveniste, G. (1985). The Design of
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Furham, S. & others. (1988). Research on education reform: Lessons on the
implementation of policy. Teachers College Record 90(2), 237-57.
Marzano, R.J., & Kebdall, J.S.D. (1996) A comprehensive guide to
designing standards-based districts, schools, and classrooms. Alexandria, VA:
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Tyree, A.K., Jr. (1993). Examining the evidence: Have states reduced local
control of curriculum? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 15(1), 34-50.