Standard-Based Education: Definition & Importance

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  • 0:03 Standards-Based Education
  • 1:25 Standards-Referenced Education
  • 2:39 Standards-Based Importance
  • 3:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joelle Brummitt-Yale

Joelle has taught middle school Language Arts and college academic writing. She has a master's degree in education.

A standards-based approach to education is growing increasingly popular in the United States. In this lesson, we'll explore what standards-based education is, how it differs from standards-referenced education, and why it's important.

Standards-Based Education

Imagine being hired to teach a fourth-grade class and not knowing what exactly fourth graders are supposed to learn. How would you plan your lessons? How would you grade student performance? And how would you communicate with parents about their children's progress? This could be frustrating and unproductive for all involved! Now imagine that you receive a clear set of goals for student learning, not only for fourth-grade but for the whole K-12 experience.

Standards-based education is a system of teaching and learning that focuses all elements of the educational experience, including teaching, assessment, grading, and reporting on standards that span all throughout a student's schooling. But what is a standard? A standard is a succinct, clearly written description of what a student should know and be able to demonstrate at a particular point in his or her education. Standards-based education uses a comprehensive set of standards spanning across grade levels to guide instruction and determine where students are as they move through their education. We most commonly see standards-based education in the form of state learning standards and measures. Each state in the U.S. has adopted a set of learning standards they provide school systems to guide instruction and assessment. These standards are used to determine a student's proficiency, or level of mastery, at a particular point in his or her education.

Standards-Referenced Education

While standards-based education seems to imply standards exist to help schools create courses and teachers to plan lessons and tests, it's actually both broader and more specific than that. Schools and teachers do need to use standards to help plan and assess instruction. When they do so, they are using standards-referenced methods of instruction. Standards-referenced education is a part of standards-based education that guides the choices of educators to create and deliver instruction that appropriately addresses specific standards. But standards-based education is more than that. It looks at a progression over a period of time. Standards attempt to break down the various steps towards larger skills and knowledge a student will learn. For example, students need to learn how to add numbers. A series of standards are written to move a student through the process of attaining this skill. Students need first to understand what a number is and how to identify a number. Next, they need to see that numbers can be put together to create a new number. They begin with single digit numbers and progress to multi-digit numbers. Standards would be written for each step along the way. Standards-based education looks at the progression through each step but also follows on the broader goal of achieving mastery of larger skills.

Standards-Based Importance

Standards-based education has proven to be important in educational systems for a variety of reasons. Let's take a look at some of them:

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