Standards Based Education - Priority Standards

The Challenges of Standards Based Education

Standards Based Education is a reform initiative designed to ensure that all students are learning the essential skills and knowledge they will need to succeed beyond the classroom. However, the standards themselves pose serious challenges for classroom teachers and district leaders required to demonstrate evidence of successful student learning.

Survivor Skills

Cross disciplinary, 21st Century skills have been referred to as "survivor skills". They include critical thinking, communication, flexibility, creativity, adaptability, and problem solving. The standards do not explicitly include these skills and teachers do not have a tool for integrating them into their instruction and assessments.

Too Many, Too Complex

Instead of paring those unwieldy documents [national-level standards] down to an instructionally manageable number of standards, ‘states tended to accept too many standards from each discipline—often, more than could be realistically addressed in the instructional time available. (Kendall, 2011)

Further, the standards are not in a form that can be validly assessed. In order to achieve its mission of increased student learning, the standards must be translated into a form that teachers can use to create instruction and assessments.

A "Common language"

Successful adoption and implementation of any Standards Based Education system is predicated on the development of a "common language" that educators can use for sharing and deepening their understanding of effective instructional practice. A "common language" is the missing link between policy mandated standards and classroom implementation. KW21 provides both a "common language" and an alignment tool for maintaining focus on student learning—the mission of Standards Based Education.

KnowledgeWare21 Software Platform (KW21): A Tool for the 21st Century Educator

Kw21 is a competency based educational management system that has synthesized the essential knowledge and skills from the standards and the 21st Century skills and created "Learning Items". "Learning Items" are a streamlined, operational form of the standards that enable teachers to create aligned instruction and assessments, as well as to conduct powerful analytics at the student, class, school, district level and more...

A Flexible Form

"Learning Items" broaden the opportunities for creating standards based instruction and practice across subject areas, grades, and even outside of the classroom. Teachers can identify all of the areas of the curriculum and extracurricular activities that reflect specific Learning Items.


Using "Learning Items" teachers can distinguish and prioritize foundational skills from more continuous skill development rather than trying to teach all of the standards in a given year. Learning to read, for example, is a foundational skill that students need to progress in cross disciplinary skill development. Other skills, such as analytic thinking will develop over the course of several years.

The Big Picture

KW21 organizes the standards as a K-12 progression of developing competencies leading to students’ skill proficiency by Grade 12. In this model, the standards based education becomes viable because teachers in each grade contribute toward increasingly proficient ability development. For example, second grade "problem solving" is different from eighth grade "problem solving"; nonetheless, second graders are beginning to practice an essential 21st Century skill from the beginning of their education.

Assessing Instructional Effectiveness

Ensuring that students are learning requires assessment tools that are valid: measure what we think they are measuring. As written, individual standards often include several sub-skills, or dimensions. An example is the standard for 6th Grade English Language Arts:

With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.  ---  MA State Framework

The standard cannot be validly assessed in this form because the statement has bundled together several, distinct sub-skills --"Planning", "Addressing purpose", and "Trying a new approach". In using an assessment claiming to measure “strengthening writing” it would not be clear which of the three sub-skills is being assessed. In order to validly measure student learning, each of the sub-skills needs to be assessed separately.

Assessment as Feedback

Using "Learning Items", each element of the standard is explicit and can be measured separately to show which aspects of writing the student has mastered and which areas continue to pose challenges. Rather than giving the student a global score that tells him little, the teacher can provide timely feedback, targeting the sub-skill(s) in need of further practice [See "Ongoing Assessment..."].

Informed Instruction and Planning

KW21 enables teachers, principals, and district leaders to easily access "real time" summaries of student, class, and school progress on targeted learning objectives within their school and district improvement plans. The ability to prospectively assess progress enables teachers and school leaders to refine and adapt their curricula to more specifically address student needs.

Student Level Analysis

"Student Proficiency Profiles" with a "Taught/Assessed/Learned Summary" of each student’s progress can prospectively effect instruction by identifying areas the student has mastered and those in need of additional practice and instruction.

Classroom Level Analysis

At the classroom level, teachers can assess the effectiveness of their instruction and the curriculum. KW21 analytics provide a summary of class performance showing the percentage of students performing below proficiency on specific "Learning Items. This function allows teachers to determine the need for clearer instruction, or the need for intervention with a targeted group of students.

School and District Level Analysis

KW21 analytics can pinpoint school and district wide areas of the curriculum that are challenging students. The specificity of “Learning Items” can identify omissions in a curriculum the school is using, and/ or the need for targeted professional development in a particular area of instruction.

Shared Practice

Organizing skills according to a progression of "Learning Items" highlights the shared nature of instruction. When teachers identify the skills they teach in common, student proficiency becomes a shared responsibility that increases the viability of standards based instruction for each teacher.


Ainsworths, L. (2010) Rigorous Curriculum Design: How to Create Curricular Units of Study that Align standards, Instruction, and Assessment. Englewood: Lead & Learn Press.

Bellanca, J. and Brandt, R., Eds. (2010). 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn. Bloomington: Solution Tree Press

Erikson, H. Lynn (2007). Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction for the Thinking Classroom. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications

Marzano, R.J., Yanoski, David C., Hoegh, Jan K., Simms, Julia A. (20013) Using Common Core Standards To Enhance Classroom Instruction & Assessment. Bloomington: Marzano Research Laboratory.

Reeves, D. (2011). Elements of Grading: A guide to effective practice. Bloomington: Solution Tree Press

Silver, H.F., Dewing, R.T., and Perini, M.J. (2012) The Core Six: Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core. Alexandria: ASCD

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