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The Evolution of Academic Standards

The Evolution of Academic Standards

Where have we been?

A little over 20 years ago, I stepped into education as a graduate teaching assistant and then became a high school English teacher. At that time in the late ’90s, state academic standards were not what they look like today. For most states, the standards were high level, limited to grade bands, and not specific to individual grade levels. A few states had grade-level standards, but most did not. 

How did No Child Left Behind (NCLB) impact edtech and content providers?

As the new century started and the NCLB legislation went into effect, states then had a requirement to build state-specific, grade-level standards that would be assessed each year for grades 3–8 and grades 9–11 in high school. The race was on for each state to bring together a standards committee and build out criteria that met state and local expectations for student achievement. What I saw during this period, and as I moved into Edmentum as a Curriculum Specialist, were  very distinct standards for each  state. Of course, there were some commonalities, but overall, each state’s standards represented a unique set of expectations that called for different alignment of content in each state. 

The work we were doing at Edmentum at the time was helping states, districts, and schools determine what educational resources were the best fit for each grade level. The Curriculum Specialists worked for months and years perfecting a “correlation report” to show schools that our materials could be used for direct instruction on their specific grade-level standards. We also rapidly built out our Study Island standards mastery program to provide practice for all the different state standards.

And then came Common Core . . .

As we ended the first decade of the new century, standards were again under development but now with an approach to have a common set of standards for most or all states. The idea behind the Common Core State Standards Initiative was to bring state leaders together to develop a consistent set of “real-world learning goals” to ensure that all students were prepared for college, careers, and life regardless of where they lived. This move to a common set of grade level expectations was seen as a great benefit to content providers who could focus on one set of standards to align to and create content for instead of 50 or more different varieties of standards. 

My hope for the Common Core giving us fewer standards to focus on for content and assessment development was short-lived. Now that we’ve moved into the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) era, we are seeing a movement back to each state working to define standards specific to its local schools in districts. In some ways, this movement does feel a little like the NCLB times, but the big difference is that state leaders and educators have learned so much about writing and implementing standards over the last 20 years. I have started to see the best of both worlds (common and state-specific standards) that has resulted in better, more clearly defined and articulated standards in each state. 

Even though many states have moved away from Common Core, I still see more commonality between state standards than I did in the early to mid -2010s, but the differences and specific state expectations for achievement still put pressure on content and assessment providers like us to provide quality educational resources that perfectly match each set of standards. What I really love about the trend in state standards today is the focus on career and college readiness.

What does this mean for the future?

As we move out of the Common Core period and dive deeper into ESSA requirements, I think that we will continue to see the move to write and define state-specific criteria for standards. I think that we could continue to see groups of states bring educators together to share their learning and redefine standards as a cohort to improve learning for all students. 

The other trend that I think will continue will be the emphasis on career readiness and the linkage of standards and skills to CTE outcomes that will engage students in actively determining a successful career or college path after high school. I also love the idea of learning progressions and how they can become an essential part of connecting standards to skillsesources, and metadata that all become part of a student’s data profile that will tell us so much more about what students know and don’t know. High student achievement for all students is what education is all about, and we will continue to see a need to revise standards to ensure that all students have equitable, just, and fair access to achieve success.

Looking for more resources on how to plan around ESSA requirements for the 2018–19 school year? We’ve assembled a curated list of our best resources aligned to goals outlined in many ESSA plans!