In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Standards-Based Education

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Expected Benefits and Actual Pitfalls of Standard-Based Education
  • Globalization of Standards-Based Education
  • Subject-Specific Standards
  • Standards for Different Groups
  • Standards Coherence and Alignment
  • Standards Implementation
  • Standard-Based Education, Equity, and Social Justice

Education Standards-Based Education
Fadia Nasser-Abu Alhija
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0210


Educational standards are precise, written descriptions of what students are expected to know and be able to do at a specific stage of their education. Educators and policymakers have realized and acknowledged the need to develop and implement various complementary types of standards such as content, instruction, performance, and assessment in order to accomplish the learning standards. Hence, standards-based education is a broad concept referring to systems of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting based on students’ unveiling the expected mastery of the knowledge and skills as they proceed through their education. Standards shape teaching goals and guide teachers what and how to teach students to help them to meet the learning expectations defined in the standards. In recent times, the broad concept of standards based or outcome based has been driven by a neoliberal approach to education reform, and governments worldwide have launched standards- or outcomes-based initiatives in response to poor rankings on international tests (e.g., PISA, TIMSS, and PRLIS, etc.). The trigger for the birth of standards and the accompanying accountability reform in the United States in the 1980s was the alarming reports on school quality such as “Nation at Risk.” The extensive policies of the “No Child Left Behind” legislation in the early 2000s boosted the establishment of accountability systems by which the implementation of standards has been monitored. Standards were initiated to improve students’ achievement and to advance the standing of American students in global economic competition. However, to this day, the debate over standards-based education is still alive and kicking as supporters and opponents continue to provide arguments and evidence that reinforce their positions. Standards and standards-based education are not unique to the American education system; they have been developed and are being implemented in several countries in which the educational systems are not necessarily similar to the American one. Over time, mainly content, instruction, and assessment standards have been tailored to different subjects and attempts to meet the needs of different groups have been made. However, the success in aligning different types of standards to each other and to teaching practices has been doubtful. Furthermore, implementation of standards- and standards-based education has proved to be challenging due to vague policies, lengthy, unfriendly standards documents, and vague guidelines. Furthermore, the premise of the standards, outcomes, and accountability reform to improve education for all students and promote equity and social justice, is far from reaching satisfaction.

General Overview

Since the 1980s, much has been written about the standards reform, the rationale of its initiation, implementation processes, and emerging challenges as well as analysis and critiques. Much of the literature attends to different aspects of this reform and provides an overview of its evolution, benefits, and pitfalls as well as discussion of its implications for students, teachers, parents, and the nation at large. A sample of relevant resources is briefly described in this section. The Great Schools Partnership 2017 provides a glossary defining concepts used in relation to reforms designed to improve student achievement including standards-based education. Marzano and Kendall 1998, Vogel 2010, and Ravitch 2013 offer a general and detailed overview of the standards reform in the United States while McInerney, et al. 2007 devotes one chapter in their edited book for this purpose. In addition to a brief overview of the standards reform, Buttram and Waters 1997 offers an overview of the origin of subject-specific standards. In their study of standards implementation in a non-American context, Nasser, et al. 2014 presents an informative overview of US standards reforms. Besides a general overview of the development and implementation of the standards policy, Snow-Renner 2001 offers a useful distinction among different types of standards. Finally, Zagranski, et al. 2008 has contributed a friendly written workbook that skillfully delineates the traditional versus standards-based education as well as accountability concepts.

  • Buttram, Joan L., and Timothy J. Waters. 1997. Improving America’s schools through standards-based education. NASSP Bulletin 81:1–6.

    DOI: 10.1177/019263659708159002

    Describes and discusses, among other things, the history of the standards-based educational reform, displaying how the perceived necessity of school improvement and the demand of holding teachers accountable for student learning outcomes led to standards development. They also describe the origin of the subject-specific standards for different disciplines.

  • Great Schools Partnership. 2017. The glossary of education reform.

    The Glossary of Education Reform is a broad online resource created by the Great Schools Partnership. It describes terms, concepts, and strategies commonly used in relation to school-improvement reforms. A distinction is made between standards-related concepts, such as standards-based and standards-referenced concepts, together with examples illustrating this distinction. The standards-based glossary is relevant for student teachers and teachers at large, parents, community members, and administrators.

  • Kenna, Joshua L., and William B. Russell III 2014. Implications of common core state standards on the social studies. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas 87:75–82.

    DOI: 10.1080/00098655.2013.859559

    This study addresses the implication of common core state standards for social studies but also offers a brief overview of the history of the US standards-based educational reform. Kenna and Russell present the trigger for starting the standards reform and outline the milestones that characterized the standards policy under different American presidents.

  • Marzano, J. Robert, and S. John Kendall. 1998. Implementing standards-based education. Washington, DC: National Education Association.

    Provides an informative overview of US standards-based reform, walking the reader through its evolution, the reasons for its initiation, and the driving forces behind its implementation. It aims to help teachers understand the nature and rationale for the emphasis placed on standards in the American education system and informs teachers regarding various ways the standards movement might influence their classrooms.

  • McInerney, Dennis, Shawn Van Etten, and Martin Dowson, eds. 2007. Standards in education. Charlotte, NC: Information Age.

    This volume is an edited book consisting of thirteen chapters organized into three parts. The first chapter “The state of play in standards and standards reform—pages 3–11” by the editors provides an overview of the standards reform referring to categories of standards, who set the standards, standards for standards, the efficacy of standards, equity standards, and some ways forward in the standards debate.

  • Nasser, R., E. Zaki, N. Allan, et al. 2014. Alignment of teacher-developed curricula and national standards in Qatar’s national education reform. International Education Studies 7:14–24.

    DOI: 10.5539/ies.v7n10p14

    This paper reports results from an empirical study examining how teacher-developed curricula are aligned with national standards in Qatar. However, the article devotes a section to presenting an overview of the standards reform evolution in the United States and its implementation in the form of content and assessment standards in most states. Through this overview, the authors delineate the international milieu within which the national education reform in Qatar was initiated.

  • Ravitch, D. 2013. National standards in American education: A citizen’s guide. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

    In this book, first published in 1995, Diane Ravitch offers an overview of the history of standards and assessments in American education. Her review portrays how the disturbing state of students’ achievement motivated establishing standards for setting educational objectives and testing system designed for monitoring progress. The effort invested by American governments in implementing the standards reform and the debate around its benefits and pitfalls are exhibited.

  • Snow-Renner, R. 2001. Teachers’ perspectives on standards-based education: Initial findings from a high-performing, high-needs school district. Aurora, CO: Mid-Continent Center for Research for Education and Learning.

    This report affords an overview of the evolution of standards policy while highlighting the distinction between standards-based instruction and standards-based accountability. It offers clear-cut definitions for content, performance, school delivery, and system performance standards beside an overview of the current context for standards in policy and practice. It also offers findings regarding the relationships between standards-based instruction and student learning. Students, teachers, and policymakers will find this report useful.

  • Vogel, L. R. 2010. Leading standards-based educational reform: Improving implementation of standards to increase student achievement. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

    Although its focus is on improving the implementation of standards, this book offers a brief but informative historical overview of the standards-based education reform in the United States. The book describes the driving factors behind the standards reform: mainly the “Nation at Risk Report,” which reflects the educational crisis in the United States during the 1980s.

  • Zagranski, R., W. T. Whigham, and W. Adrienne. 2008. Understanding standards-based education: A practical guide for teachers and administrators. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This user-friendly workbook guides readers through the standards-based process. This is a useful overview of traditional versus standards-based education and an enlightening overview of the accountability concepts focusing on assessment to serve this purpose. Relevant for anyone involved in the standards-based educational process, particularly those involved in measuring levels of success and making revisions and modifications.

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