Questions About Academic Standards

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Q. What are academic standards?
A. Academic standards are public statements regarding what all students should know and be able to do in academic subjects: mathematics, science, English, history, geography, arts, and second languages.

Academic standards are carefully constructed in order to adequately prepare students for productive work and lifelong learning. Solid standards help students develop skills and increase their knowledge.

Q. Why do we need standards in schools?
A. We need standards for excellence and for fairness. No Child Left Behind established the policy that students in high-poverty schools should be held to the same high standards as all other students.

We haven’t had fair, open, and public statements about what all students should know and be able to do. Instead, we have had a kind of unspoken understanding about what some, but not all, students should know and be able to do. This means we've created different expectations for different students. In today’s demanding world, every young person needs to possess the knowledge and problem-solving capabilities that once were reserved for a select few.

Q. Who sets academic standards?
A. Academic standards are developed at the state level by groups of scholars, teachers, and policymakers who have agreed about what all students need to know. Some states set standards low so that high percentages of students can pass a statewide exam. But low expectations cheat students, who need to be held to high academic standards.

Q. How can we help students who are behind not fall further behind?
A. High academic standards alone can’t do the job. We have to ensure that teachers have the knowledge, skill, and materials they need to teach all students to high levels. We have to reward schools where students make progress. We have to help schools that aren’t working and impose substantial consequences if they don’t improve. Many students will need special help to reach the standards, but they can and must reach them. 

Q. Won’t standards force all students into the same mold?
A. No, quite the opposite. If you know where you want to go (that’s what standards are—the academic destination), you can get there by many different routes. All subject areas contain information that all students must learn, but teachers can teach and students can learn in many different ways. Standards free up the creativity in teachers and in students. For example, teachers might create lessons using textbooks, interviews, newspapers, and public documents. But all students must learn to read well. All must learn algebra. All must learn to apply the scientific method. No exceptions. No excuses.