Teaching standards shape what students learn because teachers
are required to have their students meet the standards when it
is time for testing. Every student is expected to meet the standards
set forth by their respective school district. Indirectly the
standards have an effect on what the students learn, as core curriculum
must reflect the standards to be met. That does not mean, however,
that the curriculum is standardized. Teachers still have to choose
their curriculum, they just have to be sure that it allows the
students to pass the tests in benchmark grades.
Teachers teaching in a standards based system have goals for
their students. All students have to meet them and they provide
a focus for the students. With benchmark testing it is possible
to track results to see how the students are doing. So students
are all learning the same things. However, the standards allow
for self-expression and developing one's own style. So while all
the students in one district are taught the same core subjects
to meet the same standards, it does not result in all of the students
being clones created from the subject matter. The core curriculum
in Language Arts, Mathematics and Science all require individual
thinking and independent style. Students are encouraged to choose
methods that work for them and use various types of experimentation
to achieve results.
In this way, standards make learning easier for students. There
are goals written out that each student must achieve. Teachers
know them; students know them, as do their parents. They can work
within the framework of the curriculum to achieve the score at
each benchmark and move on to the next.
There are some detractors who feel that teaching to the standards,
or teaching to the test as it is sometimes called, is not fair
to the students. They are afraid that students will not be able
to express their individuality or creativity, as they will be
too busy trying to achieve the goals set by the district. Others
are afraid the standards are too high or too low, resulting in
disenfranchising either the over-achievers or the under-achievers.
Drop out rates are a concern for those who feel if the goals are
set too high, the students who fail early will give up.
Teaching standards vary from state-to-state and even from district
to district. So while every student learns what is essential to
pass the test, they are all not learning the same things. This
is where the standards shape what the students learn. For instance,
elementary school students in the fifth and sixth grade are expected
to be able to write at a certain level; they should be able to
write various types of essays, personal narrative, literary criticism
and more. All students are taught the basic skills necessary to
achieve that goal. But the standards do allow for freedom within
the goal. Students can write to their experiences and be creative
and funny or not. So the standards have shaped what the students
learned, but did not stifle them or force them into a box or mold.
Standards give the teachers guidelines to follow; teachers still
have the final say as to what goes on in the classroom and what
shapes their curriculum. Within a standards based system, everyone
is on the same page when it comes to expectations and that is
positive. As long as the standards makers don't forget that within
the guidelines there must be room for individuality and self-expression,
teachers can continue to teach and they will be the ones who shape
what students learn.