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Standards-Based Learning in Action

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Get past the knowing-doing gap and confidently implement standards-based learning. This book offers a comprehensive look at what standards-based learning looks like in action, from creating formative assessments to using data to inform instruction to transitioning to standards-based grading systems. Instead of comparing students to each other, standards-based learning compares students' proficiency to performance standards and education targets. Each chapter offers readers a well-thought-out action plan for implementation and effective strategies for communicating with students and parents about the classroom changes that will occur during the transition.

Use this book as your action plan for implementing standards-based learning:

  • Explore concrete steps for putting standards-based grading, instruction, and learning into action.
  • Implement schoolwide change beginning with classroom practices.
  • Address common implementation mistakes and challenges.
  • Effectively sequence units and align them with unpacked standards.
  • Create effective proficiency level scales and rubrics.

Chapter 1: Standards-Based Learning in Action
Chapter 2: Standards Alignment in Action
Chapter 3: Formative Assessment in Action
Chapter 4: Effective Feedback in Action
Chapter 5: Meaningful Homework in Action
Chapter 6: Self- and Peer Assessment in Action
Chapter 7: Summative Assessment in Action
Chapter 8: Redos, Retakes, and Reassessment in Action
Chapter 9: Proficiency Scales and Rubrics in Action
Chapter 10: Standards-Based Reporting in Action
References and Resources

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10 Chapters

Format Buy Remix

Chapter 1




Learning in Action

The past 20 years have seen an accelerating growth in studies of formative assessment. However, this has not been matched by a corresponding development in summative assessment.

The net effect has been that the changes have not improved the state of discord between these two functions.

—Paul Black


move to standards-based learning requires some fundamental and significant shifts in how teachers organize, execute, and assess their students.

After they have identified the standards, it becomes clearer to teachers what they should teach and assess—and what they should not. Most teachers would have to go out of their way to avoid covering the mandated standards by topic; however, the existence of standards doesn’t always equate to teaching to standards. Standardsbased learning is anchored on a teacher’s commitment to designing instructional experiences and assessment that make proficiency against standards (not the accumulation of points) the priority outcome.


Chapter 2



Standards Alignment in Action

These educational objectives become the criteria by which materials are selected, content is outlined, instructional procedures are developed and tests and examinations are prepared.

—Ralph Tyler


tandards represent the outcome that educators intend for the instructional process, and they are often subject neutral in that many have latitudinal applicability across multiple subjects; this allows educators who teach different subjects to establish alignment with instructional processes. For example, formulating an argument and supporting it with relevant details in a cohesive manner is applicable in English language arts, social studies, science, mathematics, and other subjects.

The curriculum, or topic, is the means through which teachers bring standards to life within specific subject areas, while instruction is the process through which teachers fuse the curriculum and standards to create a vibrant learning experience.


Chapter 3



Formative Assessment in Action

Assessment functions formatively to the extent that evidence about student achievement is elicited, interpreted, and used by teachers, learners, or their peers to make decisions about the next steps in instruction that are likely to be better, or better founded, than the decisions they would have made in absence of that evidence.

—Dylan Wiliam


ssessment in the service of learning continues to be an area of emphasis for teachers striving to optimize student achievement. Classroom assessment is nuanced and contextually sensitive, which makes it a continual part of a teacher’s professional journey, and while reaching a level of expertise is certainly possible for all educators, the journey with classroom assessment practices is never complete.

At its best, teachers use formative assessment to make instructional decisions rather than evaluative ones. The balance between the formative and summative purposes of assessment is akin to the relationship between practice and games, and while doing formative assessment is an essential first step, teachers in a standards-based learning classroom emphasize using assessment results to advance a positive learning trajectory for all students.


Chapter 4



Effective Feedback in Action

Feedback is what happens second, is one of the most powerful influences on learning, occurs too rarely, and needs to be more fully researched by qualitatively and quantitatively investigating how feedback works in the classroom and learning process.

—John A. C. Hattie


sing assessment data is fundamental to closing the gap between where students are and where they need to be. The unpredictability of learning makes feedback essential to effective learning and improvement (Wiliam, 2013).

Despite deep and wide research, there is no definitive answer to the question, What’s the most effective feedback strategy?

Everything about assessment is contextually sensitive and nuanced; a strategy that is effective in one class might be ineffective in another. Although it is a more favorable practice to utilize formative feedback in the absence of grades or scores, the definitiveness with which some reference the research on feedback minimizes the complexity of the feedback process. Almost everything teachers do in responding to assessment can, on some level, be classified as feedback (grades, for example); however, the real question is how effective the feedback was in producing the desired result of advancing proficiency.


Chapter 5




Homework in Action

The range of complaints about homework is enormous, and the complaints tend . . . toward extreme, angry, often contradictory views.

—Brian Gill and Steven Schlossman


ew aspects of schooling rival homework in terms of multiple perspectives and definitive opinions. While some lament the very idea, others believe there is a place to extend learning beyond the school day. This chapter’s purpose is not to stake out a position on one side. Rather, we present a more productive, meaningful approach to homework should teachers decide it is a necessary part of the standards-based learning experience. Students’ age and stage of development undoubtedly play an essential role in teachers’ decisions about the role of homework, which means they must contextualize the ideas we put forth in this chapter to determine the applicability for each teacher’s classroom.

Moving From Rationale to Action

Because homework practices, strategies, tasks, and responses can vary so widely, homework is essentially a neutral practice that will either contribute to or take away from students’ learning experiences based on how teachers utilize it. The latest research about homework lays the foundation so teachers can put the subsequent strategies into action to make it meaningful. Because there are many diverse


Chapter 6



Self-Assessment in Action

Perhaps the most powerful promise of self-assessment is that it can raise student academic performance by teaching pupils self-regulatory processes, allowing them to compare their own work with socially defined goals and revise accordingly.

—Gavin T. L. Brown and Lois R. Harris


ltimately, a culture of learning places the learner at the center of the assessment experience. Because assessment is the process determining the discrepancy between where students are versus where they need to be, selfassessment means the students are doing this for themselves. Self- and peer assessment ultimately result in active learners who are invested in their learning to the point of self-direction, rather than being passive recipients to what teachers have to say about what comes next in the learning.

Moving From Rationale to Action

The latest research about self- and peer assessment lays the foundation so teachers can put the subsequent strategies into action. Most teachers recognize the importance of developing students’ self- and peer assessment skills—that through self- and peer assessment, students become more intimately involved and more invested in their learning. That said, the process of developing students’ skills at recognizing the discrepancies between where they are and where they need to be may take some time.


Chapter 7




Assessment in Action

The accuracy of summative judgments depends on the quality of the assessments and the competence of the assessors.

—Connie M. Moss


n essential part of a balanced approach to classroom assessment is the verification that learning has occurred. The summative purpose of assessment is to make an overall judgment of achievement in a specific area of learning at a specific moment in time. The ways in which teachers report achievement and other important aspects can vary and evolve (such as moving away from traditional letter grades), but educators will certainly always need to verify, synthesize, and report student achievement. Standards-based learning environments have teachers refocus grades to be only about achievement, deferring all other aspects—attitude, work ethic, citizenship, responsibility, respect—to separate criteria and processes.

We can divide summative assessment into two somewhat independent processes: grading and reporting. This chapter focuses on the grading piece, which is essentially the act of making an overall determination of achievement; in this sense, grading is a verb that doesn’t necessarily result in the exclusive use of a letter or symbol to communicate achievement levels.


Chapter 8



Redos, Retakes, and

Reassessment in Action

If we really want students to reflect on their mistakes and revise their thinking and/or performances, they have to know their efforts will count. If we want them to heed our feedback on their work, they have to know that it can be used to improve their status.

—Rick Wormeli


ome students take longer to learn. Do grading practices honor or contradict that truth? Redos, retakes, and reassessment are arguably the most critical and most controversial aspects of standards-based learning in action, which is why every teacher should vet the ideas within this chapter through the nuances of his or her own classroom. Even teachers who resoundingly support the notion can feel overwhelmed by the process both in theory and execution. That is why this chapter—and even this first section—focuses heavily on the implementation side of redos, retakes, and reassessment.

We submit that success and failure with redos, retakes, and reassessment are a matter of strong or weak execution, even though this is difficult to admit. This is not to suggest that students have no role in the success of a redo, retake, or reassessment process—they do—but teachers are wise to look first at how they set up and implemented the process before turning to the students. That said, this chapter is not about wagging fingers and blaming teachers; all three of us have experienced resounding success and absolute failure with reassessment.


Chapter 9



Proficiency Scales and

Rubrics in Action

The genius of rubrics is that they are descriptive and not evaluative. Of course, rubrics can be used to evaluate, but the operating principle is you match the performance to the description rather than “judge” it.

—Susan M. Brookhart


n general, success criteria describe qualities of exemplary work; the more direct expression of criteria comes through rubrics and scales, solidifying criteria as a natural progression of sophistication (Andrade, 2013). While teachers can develop scales and rubrics in a variety of formats, the fundamental purpose is to make performance criteria transparent and accessible. Scales and rubrics work together in tandem, with the rubric providing a more narrow and detailed view of success with a particular standard or skill, and the proficiency scale providing a more holistic, overarching view.

Moving From Rationale to Action

Scales and rubrics are similar in that both attempt to create a continuum that articulates distinct levels of knowledge and skill relative to a specific topic (Marzano,


Chapter 10




Reporting in Action

A standards-based report card identifies the specific learning goals within the curriculum so that the appropriate rigor can be ensured. It also communicates more detailed information about student learning progress with regard to those goals to bring about higher levels of success.

—Thomas R. Guskey and Jane M. Bailey


he full transformation to standards-based learning in action culminates with reporting by standards. The move to standards-based reporting is fundamentally optional in that schools could maintain a more traditional reporting construct (such as grades A to F) while changing everything else related to determining those grades. To be clear, however, we think that the final piece in fully transforming to standards-based learning is a move to a more modern, aligned reporting system.

When educators implement standards-based reporting at the school or district level, it is important that they invest the appropriate amount of time in changing teachers’, students’, parents’, and stakeholders’ mindsets first. After establishing those mindsets, then doors to standards-based reporting at the school or district level swing wide open.



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