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Making Standards Useful ~ A Reflection

A reflection of the book, Making Standards Useful, by Robert J. Marzano and Mark W. Haystead.

State and national standards have become a fixture in public education that shapes what we are to teach in the classroom. However, standards prevent teachers from teaching effectively. There are two reasons for this cited by our book:
  1. Too much content. Studies show that state standards are often up to 70% more content than there is time to teach.
  2. Too many dimensions making it difficult to assess. Standards should be unidimensional. By focusing on only one measurable item, instruction and assessment is more effective and accurate.
In order to make standards more useful, they need to be reconstituted. This process involves translating the original complex set of standards into a list that makes them easier to use in formative assessment.

The process involved to make the standards more useful follows these steps:
  1. Unpack the standards by reducing each standard to one measurable unique element of information and skill. These are called benchmark statements and are simple enough to guide instruction and assessment.
  2. Reduce the number of benchmark statements by rating and combining the statements into essential skills all students should learn.
  3. Combine these essential skills into measurement topics. Topics are sets of skills that are “related”. That is, if a student becomes proficient in one skill, it is likely that proficiency in a related skill will also improve. Marzano and Haystead have found that the following steps can be used as a guide for identifying measurement topics and the related topics within:
  • Limit the number of measurement topics to 20 or fewer per subject area, per grade level.
  • Limit the number of bulleted elements within each measurement topic.
  • Include measurement topics for life skills. These are examples of common life skills topics: Participation, work completion, behavior and working in groups.
  • Change the structure of measurement topics at the high school level. For high school, measurement topics are articulate by course offerings.
  • Possibly allow for a “teacher's choice” measurement topic. This allows teachers to supplement curriculum.

The scale recommended by Marzano and Haystead is as follows:
  • A score of 4.0: In addition to score 3.0 performance, in-depth inferences and applications that go beyond what was taught.
  • A score of 3.0: No major errors or omissions regarding any of the information ad/or processes (simple or complex) that were explicitly taught.
  • A score of 2.0: No major errors or omissions regarding the simpler details and processes but major errors or omissions regarding the more complex ideas and processes.
  • A score of 1.0: With help, a partial understanding of some of the simpler details and processes and some of the more complex ideas and processes.
  • A score of 0.0: Even with help, no understanding or skill demonstrated.
  • Measurement topics graded using scales similar to the one above can then be used to capture formative assessment information. Our book recommends using software that truly measures student growth and not to use a simple average as this does not accurately measure a students knowledge at the final grading period.

I found this book incredibly helpful in understanding the process a school district must follow when new standards are introduced. It is interesting that I have read this book at this time as our school district is currently working on interpreting the new “Grade Level Expectations” for the 2010-2011 school year. Below is a quote found on the home page of Infinite Campus (our classroom management software).

[ 02/11/2010 ]
New EPR Language for 2010-2011 school year!

For the 2010-11 school year, the language on the EPR will change to reflect the new Colorado State Grade Level Expectations (GLE) and Evidence Outcomes (EO).  (In many cases, the GLEs are similar to statements found on the current EPR).  A sub-committee of teachers and BRTs from the Progress Report Committee drafted the new EPR language, which was polished and refined by the entire committee.  The statements on the EPR were written to capture the essence of the GLEs and the EOs within the 72 character limited imposed by Infinite Campus.  In addition, new work habits language was approved.  It was decided the work habits will appear once on each progress report, allowing each elementary homeroom teacher to provide feedback on work habits in their classroom.  Specials teachers will provide feedback on overall proficiency in their area and on several work habits.

It appears that our district is going through the process described in this book by refining the standards into a language and tool that is the most useful in the classroom.

Technology standards will include some of the biggest changes for the 2010-2011 school year on the new EPR. Technology standards will be embedded into every classroom teachers' content area. What does this mean to me as a technology teacher? This will depend on my role next year. If I am a specials teacher, from the district statement above, it appears that I will have some global proficiency standards and some work habits standards (referred to as “life skills” by Marzano and Haystead). Depending on our budget, I may serve in more of a support role for our teachers and help them begin to implement the technology standards into their classroom instruction. In either case, I now have a more thorough  understanding of how standards are implemented from concept to assessment in a classroom setting.