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Why Standards-Based Learning


A standards-based learning system is built around several powerful ideas:
  • clear learning targets in all content areas and all grade levels
  • all classroom instruction and assessments aligned to learning targets
  • providing multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate growth and learning
  • increased use of formative assessment practices; providing feedback focused on student growth and supporting improved instruction
  • consistent scoring guides (rubrics) to determine a student's level of learning and indicate what a student must do to improve
  • regular reporting of progress on each learning target
  • reporting academics and behaviors separately
  • placing the highest value on teacher judgment and expertise

Why is it important to have classroom instruction and student tasks / assignments aligned to clear learning targets?

"The concept of 'Opportunity to Learn', then, is a simple but powerful one – if students do not have the opportunity to learn the content expected of them, there is little chance that they will.  'Opportunity to Learn' address the extent to which the curriculum in a school is 'guaranteed.'  This means that state and districts give clear guidance to teachers regarding the content to be addressed in specific courses and at specific grade levels."  "Opportunity to Learn has the strongest relationship with student achievement of all school-level factors identified in Marzano (2000a)." – What Works in Schools by Robert J. Marzano

"But to bring about significant improvement in education, we must link standards to what takes place in classrooms.  For that to happen, teachers need to do two important things: (1) translate the standards into specific classroom experiences that facilitate student learning and (2) ensure the classroom assessments effectively measure the learning." – Mapping the Road to Proficiency by Thomas R. Guskey

Why is it important for students to have multiple opportunities to demonstrate their achievement on each learning target?

"The straight answer to the question of, 'What happens if a student doesn't meet the standards?' is that the student does the assignment again or has additional opportunities in other contexts to meet the standards.  Indeed, revision and improvement is one of the distinguishing features of a standards-based performance assessment.  It is not a 'one-shot' ordeal.  To people who regard such advice as unworkable and extraordinary, I would recommend a few hours with the typical music or physical education teacher.  When a student clarinetist squeaks through the B-flat scale, the typical response is neither a note home nor a low grade awarded many weeks later.  Rather, the student plays the B-flat scale again – and again, and again, until he gets it right.  Effective coaches and physical education teachers routinely do the same thing, knowing that skills in that subject are acquired with practice.  Thus when I ask teachers to give students multiple opportunities for success and when I insist that the consequences of poor performance should not be a low grade but rather the requirement for more work, I am only asking them to take reading, math, social studies, and science just as seriously as they take music and physical education." – Making Standards Work by Douglas B. Reeves   

"Giving students the opportunity to master a skill over time and with repeated attempts may change their ideas about how and why they succeed in class.  If we offer our students the opportunity to try again and really work with them to achieve, perhaps their perceptions of the causes of achievement can change from an innate ability to perform to persistence and effort." – Engaging Adolescents in Reading by J. Guthrie\

Why are formative practices (tasks designed to provide feedback and encourage growth) so important?

"The reported impact of feedback in achievement ranges from a low of 21 percentile points to a high of 41.  Both of these indicate that academic achievement in classes where effective feedback is provided to students is considerably higher than the achievement in classes where it is not.  In fact, a review of almost 8,000 studies led John Hattie (1992) to comment, "The most powerful single modification that embraces achievement is feedback.  The simplest prescription for improving education must be 'dollops of feedback.'"

Research on the Importance of Feedback ​ ​ ​
Synthesis StudyNumber of Effect SizesAverage Effect SizePercentile Gain
Walberg, 1999200.9433
Bloom, 197670.5421
Scheerens & Bosker, 1997-1.0936
Kumar, 199151.3541
Haller, Child, & Walberg, 1988200.7126

- What Works in Schools by Robert J. Marzano

"The research reported here shows conclusively that formative assessment does improve learning.  The gains in achievement appear to be quite considerable, and as noted earlier; amongst the largest ever reported for educational interventions.  As an illustration of just how big these gains are, an effect size of 0.7, if it could be achieved on a nationwide scale, would be equivalent to raising the mathematics achievement score of an 'average' country like England, New Zealand or the United States into the 'top five' after the Pacific rim countries of Singapore, Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong." – In the Black Box by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam

Why is the use of scoring guides / rubrics so important?

"The manner in which students receive feedback is important for student achievement.  As discussed previously, criterion-referenced feedback is superior to norm-referenced feedback.  In nontechnical terms, this means that providing students with feedback in terms of specific levels of knowledge and skill is better than simply providing students with a percentage score.  One powerful set of tools to this end is rubrics." – Classroom Instruction that Works by Robert J. Marzano, Debra J. Pickering, and Jane E. Pollock

"Rubrics hold a mirror up to your objectives for an assessment task.  Matt Townsley (high school math teacher) remembers well the day he looked into this mirror and didn't like what he saw.  'I realized my criteria were mostly about how neat the project looked.  It hit me that students could do well without knowing a whole lot about the learning objective.'" – How We Got Grading Wrong, and What to Do About It by Laura Varlas

Why is the reporting of student progress on learning targets so important?

"Effective feedback is specific and formative in nature.  Certainly feedback once a year from a state test or standardized test falls well below the minimum frequency level.  At a minimum, students should receive quarterly feedback on their academic performance.  Consequently, schools must establish a system that provides feedback on specific knowledge and skills at least every nine weeks.  This automatically rules out state-developed tests on standards, off-the-shelf standardized test, or even both working in tandem.  For all practical purposes, a school has two primary options.

The first is to construct a series of quarterly tests that are specifically designed to assess student competence in essential school-identified content.  Although this is a viable option, it is usually an expensive one because most schools and districts do not have the time or resident expertise to construct such test and must rely on companies that specialize in their design.

A second and much better option is to redesign report cards and grading practices to reflect student competence in specific or 'essential' knowledge and skills." - What Works in Schools by Robert J. Marzano

"Thoughtful and well-informed initiatives to develop new reporting forms frequently prompt discussions about other elements of schooling, which can be vitally important to students' success.  When educators begin talking about what to report and how to report it, they also begin thinking about clarity of state or district learning standards, the effectiveness of their instructional strategies, and the quality of their classroom assessments.  In addition, they often become more conscientious about helping student learn well, earn high grades or marks, and gain confidence in learning situations." – Developing Standards-Based Report Cards by Thomas R. Guskey and Jane M. Bailey 

Additional Research behind Standards-based Practices:

  • Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998).  Assessment and classroom learning.  Assessment in Education, 5(1), 7-74.
  • Bloom, B. S. (1976). Human characteristics and school learning.  New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Haller, E. P., Child, D. A., & Walberg, H. J. (1988). Can comprehension be taught?  A quantitative synthesis of 'metacognitive studies.' Educational Researcher, 17(9), 5-8.
  • Hattie, J. A. (1992).  Measuring the effects of schooling.  Australian Journal of Education, 36(1), 5-13.
  • Hirsch, E. D., Jr. (1996). The schools we need and why we don't have them. New York: Doubleday.
  • Kumar, D. D. (1991). A meta-analysis of the relationship between science instruction and student engagement.  Education Review, 43(1), 49-66.
  • Lipsey, M. W., & Wilson, D. B. (1993).  The efficacy of psychological, educational, and behavioral treatment.  Confirmation from meta-analysis.  American Psychologist, 48(12), 1181-1209.
  • Marzano, R. J. (2000a). A new era of school reform: Going where the research takes us.  Aurora, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED454255).
  • Rosenholtz, S. J. (1989). Teachers' workplace: The social organization of schools. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Scheerens, J. & Bosker, R. (1997). The foundations of educational effectiveness. New York: Elsevier.
  • Schmoker, M. (1999). Results: The key to continuous school improvement (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Walberg, H. J. (1999).  Productive teaching. In H. C. Waxman & H. J. Walberg (Eds), New direction for teaching practice and research, 75-104.  Berkeley, CA:
  • McCutchen Publishing Corporation.
  • Wise, K. C., & Okey, J. R. (1983). A meta-analysis of the effects of various science teaching strategies on achievement.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 20(5), 415-425.