Teaching to Standards: Experience Shows That Teaching with Standards-Aligned Materials Isn't Enough to Ensure That Students Meet Expectations. Teachers Also Need Professional Development in Planning and Evaluation
O'Shea, Mark R., Leadership
Now that California's standards-based educational system will soon be completed, our attention is returning to the classroom. What will teachers do differently to assure that their students meet the higher expectations of the standards?
California, perhaps more than any other state, has provided school leaders and teachers with a variety of resources for implementing standards. Diane Massell, a researcher in Philadelphia, has complimented our state for its efforts: "California published curriculum and program advisories, lists of educational materials (in addition to approved textbooks), model curriculum guides and task force reports to provide guidance while frameworks were being revised" (Massell, 1998).
Clearly, teachers in our state are in an enviable position. Unlike other states, we have approved curriculum products for use at the lower grades that are aligned with the standards. But recent experience in New Jersey suggests that teacher reliance on standards-based curriculum materials may be insufficient to reach the target: student work and test performances that meet standards.
The New Jersey study revealed some issues of importance to school leaders in California. Following extensive professional development in the use of standards-aligned curriculum activities in science, 27 teachers were asked to select one activity as the basis for a lesson plan. The teachers who volunteered for this exercise were asked to: 1) teach the lesson, 2) collect three samples of student work from the lesson and 3) write specific comments that explained where the evidence could be found that documented the achievement of the selected standard.
The New Jersey teachers were professional and trusting. They disclosed their plans, their student work samples and their comments about student work produced in their own classrooms. An analysis of the student work, the teachers' comments about the work samples and the lesson plans prepared from standards-based activities suggests that teachers struggle in their efforts to plan and implement standards-based lessons, even when those lessons use standards-aligned curriculum materials.
Principals and curriculum leaders may need to give some thought to how teachers are supported in their efforts to implement standards. Diane Massell is clear on this matter: "High-quality curriculum materials are necessary if not sufficient tools for implementing and achieving educational change. Indeed, the lack of quality, including the tendency of textbooks to cover so many topics in a superficial manner, was the initial impetus for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' groundbreaking effort in the 1980s to set academic content standards in K-12 mathematics."
Standards-based lesson planning
The teachers in the New Jersey study received extensive staff development in hands-on science activities and information about the New Jersey core curriculum content standards. The teachers did not receive instruction in how to plan differently for a standards-based classroom. What could have been done for these teachers to help them meet the standards?
A close look at the standards, the frameworks, teachers' lesson plans and student work provided some insights into effective standards-based lesson planning. Here are some of the components that were missing in the New Jersey professional development activity.
Selecting standards and indicators
When teachers use standards-aligned curriculum materials as the sole means of meeting the standards, they are not given the opportunity to consider deeply the higher expectations that the state frameworks describe for their students. Consider these frequently observed errors based on the analysis of lesson plans prepared by New Jersey teachers who were not provided with instruction in standards-based lesson planning:
1. Too many standards or indicators selected for one lesson. …