Textbooks: Advantages and Disadvantages

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Standards, Schmandards

One of the major movements in schools everywhere is standards-based education. Generally speaking, a standard is a description of what students should know and be able to do.

Expert Opinion

A mathematics standard for students in grades 6 though 8 is to “compare and order fractions, decimals, and percents efficiently and find their approximate locations on a number line.” An example of a writing standard for students in grade 11 is to “write a persuasive piece that includes a clearly stated position or opinion along with convincing, elaborated and properly cited evidence.”

By definition, educational standards let everyone—students, teachers, parents, administrators—know what students are expected to learn.

Educational standards have been developed by a number of professional organizations in addition to those created by state departments of education and local school districts. Standards are designed to answer four questions:

  • What do we want students to know and be able to do?

  • How well do we want them to know/do those things?

  • How will we know if students know and can do those things?

  • How can we redesign schooling to ensure that we get the results we want?

Let's take a look at each of these questions in a little more detail.

Learn to Earn

Standards make clear to everyone, including students, the expectations for learning. They are designed to help students be responsible for their own learning, become a good thinker and problem-solver, and know what quality work looks like. They are based on three primary concepts:

  • Content standards. These describe what students should know or be able to do in 10 content areas: language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, fine arts, health, physical education, world languages, career and life skills, and educational technology.

  • Benchmarks. These make clear what students should know and be able to do at grade levels K to 3, 4 to 5, 6 to 8, and 9 to 12.

  • Performance standards. These answer the questions, “What does good performance look like?” and “How good is good enough?”

Higher and Higher

Standards-based education engages students, not only in the learning process, but also in knowing what is expected of them. Students know, before a lesson begins, what they should do to achieve competence. They also know that you, as their teacher, will do whatever it takes to help them achieve the standards of a lesson or unit.

Accountability Counts

In a standards-based school, everyone is accountable. Students are responsible for their own learning, parents know what is expected of their children, teachers provide a positive learning environment, administrators provide the necessary leadership, and community members work to support the learning. Everybody has a role, and everybody is responsible for learning to happen.

Teach Them, and They Will Come

Standards-based teaching is different from some of the more traditional forms of teaching with which you may be familiar. It is a sequential and developmental process in which academic standards become the focus, or pillars, around which all instruction revolves. Here's how you would develop a standards-based lesson:


Standards-based teaching is when teachers use activities and lessons to ensure that students master a predetermined set of requirements or standards.

  1. Define the content standards and the accompanying benchmarks.

  2. Write the learning objectives.

  3. Develop the appropriate assessments.

  4. Establish the performance standards or levels.

  5. Design the lesson.

  6. Plan the instructional strategies and/or activities.

  7. Implement the instruction (teach).

  8. Assess students.

  9. Evaluate and refine the teaching/learning process.

And the Difference Is …?

There are two major differences between standards-based teaching and traditional forms of teaching. In standards-based education …

  • Teachers identify key knowledge and skills first and use them to focus all instructional and assessment activities.

  • Teachers determine performance standards and share these with students before instruction begins.

It is important to note that standards-based reforms have met with both success and controversy. Many school districts across the United States report that standards-based efforts have resulted in higher overall achievement test results. Another benefit is that community members are more engaged in the affairs of the school.

There are also some negative views on standards-based education. Teachers have concerns because of the sheer number of standards in place within a single content area or at a single grade level. Some teachers feel as though they have to “teach for the test” so their students will have higher test scores. There are also concerns about the lack of emphasis on problem-solving skills and critical-thinking abilities. Some communities are concerned that their urban schools are not being treated fairly and that the higher standards are causing higher failure rates.

Standards, whether those from professional organizations, your state, or your school district, are another form of instructional resource for your classroom. They can guide you in developing appropriate lessons and assist you in helping your students achieve academically. However, just as with any other resource, they are teaching tools. Just as you would select one set of tools to build a log cabin, so, too, would you select another set of tools to build a condominium. The same is true of the teaching tools at your disposal.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as a Teacher © 2005 by Anthony D. Fredericks. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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