Dissecting Standards

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Check Out the New Blog Standards can be presented in many ways. You can have content standards, benchmarks, and even performance standards. The first challenge is understanding what each term means.

It is difficult to define all the key words without running into overlapping of the terms. Some states have fused all the types of standards into one, some are still presenting lists of content standards, alongside with performance standards and benchmarks.

Content Standards

Broad statements that describe specific content areas that groups of students should learn at each grade level are called CONTENT Standards. They define the knowledge within each discipline.

For instance, a content standard for 6th grade science students could be, in Earth Science: “Students will understand the effects of the relative positions of the earth, moon and sun.”

These standard types carry a variety of names. Among others, you will find they are also called: CURRICULUM standards or SUBJECT standards.

Performance Standards

Expectations for instruction, assessment, and student work are called PERFORMANCE Standards. These incorporate the content standards and they define the level of work that demonstrates achievement of the standards.

Performance standards isolate and identify skills needed to use the knowledge and skills in problem-solving, reasoning, communicating, and making connections with other information. They provide all constituents with the evidences that students have met the content standards, helping teachers define what level of work is satisfactory.


Instructional tools used to gauge student understanding of specific standards are called BENCHMARKS. These are used as reference points and tend to be measurable items. In addition, benchmarks are often accompanied by work samples that set the bar for quantitative as well as qualitative evidences of performance. Benchmarks provide general guidance for articulating the learning outcomes associated with a program but are not a specification of a detailed curriculum.

Benchmarks are used to determine policy and services for students. They are often associated with external assessment, as in benchmark testing.

In some programs, benchmarks are statements made explicitely, aside from content standards, or by adding a quantitative measure to an existing standard. In other programs, benchmarks are included in the content and performance standards, by simply showing a progress indicator through coding.

Opportunity to Learn Standards

In the mid 90’s there was also an attempt at developing “Opportunity To Learn”(OTL) standards. These pertained more to the school systems and their capacity to offer sufficient quality resources to students. These standards also addressed practices and conditions necessary at each level of the education system to provide all students with the opportunity to learn the material in content standards.

This push to standardize education later led the U.S. Department of Education to concentrate its objectives on student testing and school accountability.

From Professional Learning Board’s online continuing education course for teachers: Integrating Standards in Teaching

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