Setting Standards for Missouri Students

By Carnahan, Mel | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), January 2, 1996 | Go to article overview

Setting Standards for Missouri Students


Carnahan, Mel, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Over the past months, parents, educators, and other citizens have been working together to draft a set of academic performance standards for Missouri's school children. The main purpose of these new academic standards is to help assure that, when students leave school, they have the practical skills and knowledge they will need to compete in the global economy.

The standards set clear and high expectations for what our students should know and be able to do when they graduate from high school. They emphasize not just knowledge but the ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world situations.

Setting high academic standards for our students is an old idea dating back to our founding fathers. For example, Thomas Jefferson championed the necessity of establishing academic standards, or "purposes" as he called them, in a system of free public schools throughout early Virginia.

Jefferson's push for academic standards fell by the wayside because Virginia was not yet ready to embrace the concept of public education. Today, we are fortunate to have crossed that bridge. However, unlike many other states, Missouri has still not adopted the academic standards that Jefferson recognized as so crucial to successfully educating our young people.

The academic standards that Jefferson had in mind and the "Show-Me Academic Performance Standards" we are developing here in Missouri both reflect what I call a "Basics Plus" approach to education. The acquisition of knowledge and the learning of skills are the "basics." Their application - that is, the performance and utilization of knowledge and skills in a "real- world" context - is the "plus" that builds upon the basics.

Like Jefferson's proposed standards, the Show-Me Standards explicitly emphasize the need for students to obtain a solid foundation in reading, writing, math, science, history, geography, and the arts. Our schools fail if they do not require students to learn a great amount of substantive knowledge in each of these subject areas.

But Missouri's standards, again like Jefferson's, also recognize that simply demanding that students be able to recall bits and pieces of information is not good enough. Success in adult life requires more than quiz-show knowledge.

That's why Missouri's standards call for so much more. The Show-Me Standards demand that students be able to analyze information and ideas, communicate ideas effectively, perform problem-solving tasks, and understand the obligations of responsible citizenship.

Let me give you a few specific examples of how the "Basics Plus" approach works in the Show-Me Standards.

The first standard in the Communications section states that students will acquire proficiency in "speaking and writing standard English, including grammar, usage, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization. …

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