The quest for high quality evaluation and assessment of student knowledge and performance has been repeatedly addressed over the years. Without a clear framework of standards and benchmarks, gaps will persist in curriculum content and the quality of instruction will not be advanced.
Call for Standards
A Nation at Risk, published in 1983 by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, initiated the modern standards movement that called for reform in our educational institutions. It identified "a rising tide of mediocrity" in education that threatened the future of our nation (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). In 1989, an Education Summit held by President George Bush and the nation's governors, established six broad goals for education, to be reached by the year 2000 (National Education Goals Panel, 1991).
In 1990, Congress established the National Education Goals Panel (NEGP) and the National Council on Education Standards and Testing INCEST). These two groups were charged with identifing subject matter to be addressed, types of assessments to be employed, and setting standards of performance. These efforts led to the setting of national standards in mathematics, science, civics, dance, theatre, music, art, history and social studies, to name a few. Since 1990, the movement has taken hold at the state level with most states and U.S. territories having set common academic standards for students (Kendall & Marzano, 2000).
In 1995, Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, credited as a chief architect of the standards movement, sums up the need for standards in her book National Standards in American Education:A Citizens Guide (1995):
"Americans...expect strict standards to govern construction of buildings, bridges, highways, and tunnels; shoddy work would put lives at risk. They expect stringent standards to protect their drinking water, the food they eat, and the air they breathe. ...Standards are created because they improve the activity of life."
While most content areas have already developed and repeatedly revised their content standards over the last decade, Agricultural Education has produced only two frameworks. Cardwell (1999) developed a framework titled the Food, Fiber, Environment and Natural Resources (FFENR) Matrix with the intent of providing a model that would connect elements of the life and physical sciences to human activities associated with FFENR systems. In 1998, Leising, Igo, and Hubert developed the Food and Fiber Systems Literacy (FFSL) Framework.
The FFSL Framework
A call was issued in 1988 for systematic instruction about agriculture to be given all K- 12 students, establishing food and fiber systems literacy among our population (National Research Council, Board on Agriculture, Committee on Agricultural Education in Secondary
Schools). In 1996, Oklahoma State University, in cooperation with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, developed the Food and Fiber Systems Literacy (FFSL) Curriculum Framework. Themes, standards and benchmarks were identified and infused into the core academic curriculum using classroom activities that encouraged active learning. Through an infusion approach across the curriculum, development and testing of the FFSL Framework was carried out during the 1997-98 and 1998-99 academic years at elementary and middle schools in California, Montana, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania.
A web-site was created to share what was learned through this project and is maintained by the Department of Agricultural Education, Communications, and 4-H Youth Development at OSU. It includes information about the project, a downloadable version of A Guide to Food & Fiber Systems Literacy (1998), as well as lesson plans and instructional activities. The web-site URL is: http:// food_fiber.okstate.edu
Standards & Benchmarks
The FFSL Guide consists of two sections; the FFSL framework and sample instructional activities. The Framework section includes standards and grade-grouped benchmarks organized into five themes: 1) Understanding Food and Fiber Systems; 2) History, Geography, and Culture; 3) Science, Technology, and Environment; 4) Business and Economics; and 5) Food, Nutrition and Health.
The themes and standards describe what a person should understand to be agriculturally literate, while the benchmarks communicate developmentally appropriate aspects of each standard the students should achieve within each grade grouping. The first part of each benchmark is a minimum cognitive knowledge expectation. The second part is a psychomotor or affective expectation.
Standards are the foundation for teaching and learning about food and fiber systems, and can provide direction for school administrators, curriculum directors and teachers in planning infusion of food and fiber systems literacy education across the curriculum. Benchmarks, then, serve as a basis for instruction and assessment. As part of the Food and Fiber Systems Literacy Project, four assessment instruments for grade groupings K-1, 2-3, 4-5, and 6-8 were developed, based on the FFSL standards and benchmarks. These instruments were used as a pretest and posttest to measure change in agricultural knowledge of students in schools where the FFSL Framework was being infused across the curriculum in science, mathematics, reading and language arts. Results of fieldtesting, over two years in K-8 schools, revealed that students increased their knowledge of agriculture. Teachers perceived that students were more enthusiastic about their learning and more connected to their communities. Also, the instruments were useful in evaluating student achievement in each of the five thematic areas of the Framework. By using the instruments for diagnostic purposes, teachers were better able to focus instruction on themes where students needed additional instruction. Some may argue that tests do not measure all of the learning that is taking place. We would agree; but tests, when used as formative and summative measures, do provide a picture of what is being learned and the areas that need additional instruction. Also, we found that the results of assessment provide a vehicle for teachers to communicate to parents, school administrators and others about what students learned about agriculture. Together, the standards and benchmarks help to direct progress toward the goal of developing a food and fiber systems literate person.
A clear framework of standards and benchmarks will help to not only guide curriculum content and improve quality of instruction, but provide a basis for assessment of student agricultural knowledge. Has the time come to develop a national framework that would encompass those basic standards and benchmarks for instructing students in agriculture? The United States Department of Education is in the process of funding a project to determine the career paths and standards for vocational and technical education programs in agriculture (Dr. Larry D. Case, personal communication, December, 2000). Secondary school agricultural programs are vitally important in preparing individuals for employment in food and fiber systems, but in order to protect against gaps in the knowledge taught, and to be accountable for what students are learning, a truly standard-based curriculum in agriculture must be developed and implemented.
Cardwell, VB. (1999). A matrix for connecting science and human activities in education: The food, fiber, environment and natural resource systems. Unpublished manuscript, Department of Agronomy, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Kendall, J.S. & Marzano, R.J. (2000). Content Knowledge: A compendium of standards and benchmarks for K- 12 education, third edition. [On-line]. Available: http://www.mcrel.org/stan- dards-benchmarks/
Leising, J., Igo, C., Heald, A., Hubert, D. & Yamamoto, J. (1998). A guide to food and fiber systems literacy: A compendium of standards, benchmarks, and instructional materials for grades K- 12. Oklahoma
State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma.
National Commission on Excellence in Education. (1983). A nation at risk: The imperative for educational reform. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
National Education Goals Panel. (1991). The national education goals report: Building a nation of learners. Washington, DC: Author.
National Research Council, Board on Agriculture, Committee on Agricultural Education in Secondary Schools. (1988). Understanding agriculture: New directions for agricultural education. Washington D.C.: National Academy Press. Ravitch, D. (1995). National standards in American education: A citizen's guide. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
James G. Leising is Professor and Department Chair of the Department of Agricultural Education, Communications & 4-H Youth Development at Oklahoma State University.
Seburn L. Pence is a Graduate Research Associate in the Department of Agricultural Education, Communications & 4-H Youth Development at Oklahoma State University.…