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Urgent Message:

    Families Crucial to School Reform

    The vision of higher standards to be achieved by every student is the most ambitious challenge American public education has ever faced. For the first time in our history, the nation has adopted policies that promise all students, rich and poor, no matter where they live or the language of their family or how long it takes them to learn, a quality education.

    Lewis & Henderson, 1997

Standards-based education is systematic approach to improving instruction and learning in our public schools. It is based on the assumption that all students (including students with disabilities, students with limited English proficiency) can achieve to higher levels if:

• Expectations for all students are set high

• Standards are clearly defined

• Teaching is designed and provided to support the achievement of all students

• Schools and students are held accountable for their performance

Here are the basic steps in organizing education based on standards:

Step 1: Set the Standards.

• Standards-based education reform begins with the setting of “learning standards.” Learning standards are also called “content standards.” Learning standards define what learning should be accomplished in what grades or over certain grade spans. In Massachusetts, learning standards are called Curriculum Frameworks. They lay out the essential core of knowledge of what students should be taught.

Step 2: Develop the Curriculum.

• School districts use academic courses of study (the “curriculum”) that are based on the learning standards. Districts can develop their own or purchase a curriculum for an academic subject. Some schools or districts refer to the curriculum as the “syllabus.” The curriculum is the roadmap teachers use to help students master the standards. Even though a curriculum, or syllabus, may vary from school to school, it must be based on the Curriculum Frameworks set by the state.

Step 3: Design Individual Courses and Instructional Strategies.

• Using the curriculum as the guide, schools and/or individual teachers design the day-to-day content of courses and instruction, including the materials and methods best suited for the students.

Step 4: Assess the Performance of Schools and Students.

• Assessments based on the learning standards are a way to measure the actual results of education. Assessment results tell us how well students have mastered the standards and how well schools have taught the standards. In Massachusetts, these statewide assessments are referred to as the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS.

Step 5: Use Results to Make Improvement.

• MCAS assessments help to determine whether or not schools and districts have made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Parents, schools, district, and the state use the MCAS assessment results to identify where more work is needed in order for all students to succeed academically. Parents and families can use the assessment results to pinpoint where their son or daughter needs more help in a particular academic subject. Schools can identify where there are lapses in their instruction, and the state can identify schools and districts where more support and technical assistance are needed.