Writing High Quality Standards

It is essential that the learning goals on which the course assessments and instructional plan are based be written for teacher and students use on a daily basis. Much has been written on high quality standards, and the premise here is not to re-invent the wheel. Following a series of simple guidelines will facilitate their usefulness. Very often, national and state level standards, such as the Common Core or ACT College Readiness Standards are often too vague or complicated for daily use, both in terms of instruction as well as assessment.

Standards must be broken down into small enough chunks that students can see or determine what they need to do in order to get better. Think of the difference between saying to a student, “You need to improve in math” vs “You need to improve your knowledge and understanding of fractions” vs “You need to learn the difference between a numerator and denominator.” Too often, standards are written so globally that it becomes nearly impossible for students to assess their progress with enough specificity or determine appropriate next steps. In terms of the scope of learning goals, we recommend they get broken down to roughly the “lesson level,”: what would be taught within a single or small number of classes.

Learning goals must also be actionable, and we strongly recommend beginning them with an action verb. The time tested students will be able to (SWBAT)... is an excellent way to begin standards, however it is often helpful to them and their parents to remove that stem and simply state the objectives as action statements.

State the law of demand

Compare and contrast Classical and Keynesian theories

Draw a graph of a competitive market

….and so on. Each of these are definitive statements that a student may apply to him/herself: “Can I state the law of demand?”

If well-written, the standards should be provided directly to students and parents—no need to keep secret the things we want them to learn. They also become automatic review and study material. We often advise our students: “review the standards tonight. Do not just read them and say in your head ‘yeah I can do that’—actually take the time to demonstrate mastery.” In other words, if the standard says “draw a graph of a competitive market,” studying can be as simple as sitting down to work on that until the goal is reached.

Finally, avoid the dreaded word, “understand,” or, at least, use with great care. Understanding is within the student’s mind, and thus provides no evidence in and of itself. For example, you cannot tell, just by looking at a student, if they understand why might be preferable to take a loan with a higher payment vs one with a lower payment. (to minimize finance charges) The student must do or produce something that demonstrates their understanding. Therefore, “understanding” should be used as a more global objective, always broken down into a series of more objective components, the attainment of which constitute a strong, evidence-based argument for understanding. Hence, “Students will demonstrate their understanding of how a market system functions by….(followed by list of standards.)

AP Level Standards:

College Prep Standards: