Setting standards has gradually generated agreement about the meaning of two key concepts--academic content standards and performance standards. The following definitions, illustrated below with examples from Delaware, are consistent with those suggested by the National Education Goals Panel (1993) and enacted into law by the Goals 2000: Educate America Act:
Academic content standards describe what every student should know and be able to do in the core academic content areas (e.g., mathematics, science, geography). Content standards should apply equally to students of all races and ethnicities, from all linguistic and cultural backgrounds, both with and without special learning needs.
Performance standards answer the question, "How good is good enough?" They define how students demonstrate their proficiency in the skills and knowledge framed by states' content standards.
An Example of One of DELAWARE's Content and Performance Standards in ReadingThe content standard in reading requires students to: construct, examine, and extend the meaning of literacy informative, and technical texts through listening, reading, and viewing. For example, to demonstrate their knowledge of this standard, fifth graders must read a full-length passage from a text and answer questions requiring both brief and detailed responses.
Based on how students' answers demonstrate their understanding of the passage, the performance standard indicates they "meet or exceed" the standard if their answer:
Academic content standards are meant to apply to all children. In some states, however, although the standards apply to all students, the strategies for achieving them may differ. For example, New York State has established two ninth grade earth science courses: a two semester course and a three semester course. The course expectations are the same, students take the same Regents exam, and they meet the same high standard, only the length of time to learn the material differs. In other states, like Kentucky, some percentage of students who have severe disabilities are often excluded from meeting the state's standards of performance (See box below on applying standards to students with disabilities).
Standards development is supported by state legislatures, local communities, private foundations, and the federal government. States and communities establish their own standards without direction from outside sources, but they often adapt their standards to those set by teachers and professional organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the National Science Teachers' Association (NSTA), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), or New Standards, a collaborative of 19 states, 6 urban districts, and the Learning Research and Development Center of Pittsburgh and the National Center on Education and the Economy. In 1989, NCTM was the first professional organization to issue its discipline's standards, Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics, and other discipline-based organizations have been developing their standards since 1992.
Applying State Standards to Students with Disabilities