In education, the term common standards predominately refers to learning standards—concise, written descriptions of what students are expected to know and be able to do at a specific stage of their education—that are used to guide public-school instruction, assessment, and curricula within a country, state, school, or academic field. That said, there are different types of common standards in education that may be used in a variety of ways (see examples below).
In brief, standards are consider “common” when (1) a single set of standards is used throughout an education system, state, district, or school, and (2) when they are applied and evaluated in consistent ways, whether they are learning standards for students or professional standards for educators. For example, standardized tests are one method used to consistently evaluate whether students from different schools and states have achieved expected learning standards.
The following are a few representative examples of the main forms of common standards in education:
- Subject-area learning standards: Both national and international organizations that represent specific academic fields and content areas often develop learning standards for their academic disciplines. Typically, committees of experts and specialists develop these learning standards, which are then publicly released for voluntary adoption and use by countries, states, districts, schools, or subject-area professional organizations. The standards developed by the National Council for the Social Studies and the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance would be two examples. State and national governments and agencies also develop subject-area learning standards (see examples below).
- International learning standards: Some international organizations representing groups of educators in specific academic disciplines throughout the world develop standards for learning or teaching in a specific academic field. The standards developed by the International Reading Association and the International Society for Technology in Education would be two examples.
- National learning standards: Many countries, such as Canada and Singapore, use national learning standards to guide instruction in public schools—i.e., national governmental agencies are responsible for developing and overseeing the learning standards applied to public schools. In the United States, the Common Core State Standards for the subject areas of English language arts and mathematics are two sets of learning standards that have been adopted by a majority of states. Unlike Canada and Singapore, the federal government does not play a role in developing these learning standards, but their widespread adoption by most states makes them a form of common standards used throughout the country. The Next Generation Science Standards would be another example similar to the Common Core State Standards.
- State learning standards: State education agencies (i.e., departments of education) and state-based professional organizations also develop common academic standards for use within a particular state. All fifty states in the United States have established—through legislative action or state rules and requirements—learning standards for the major academic content areas (i.e., English language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, health, etc.). Recently, many states incorporated the Common Core State Standards into their state learning standards, and many of those same states are participating in the development of the Next Generation Science Standards.
- Professional standards: Many membership organizations for educators create common professional standards for their specific academic field or area of expertise—the National Science Teachers Association’s Standards for Science Teacher Preparation, the National Council for the Social Studies’ National Standards for Social Studies Teachers, and Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Learning would be three examples. In addition to professional standards for teachers, professional standards have been developed for administrators and other school staff, such as guidance counselors, school psychologists, or athletic coaches. Professional standards may also be developed or adopted by state education agencies and other governing bodies, which then use the standards to guide job-performance evaluations or teaching licensure and certification, for example. Professional standards may be applied at the international, national, state, and organizational levels, and they typically describe expectations for competence, behavior, and professional growth.
- Accreditation standards: Organizations and agencies that accredit schools, academic institutions, and teacher-education programs also develop and use common standards during the accreditation process. In these cases, the common standards may be used in the evaluation of schools and programs in a given state or region. For example, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges accredits public schools, career and technical education programs, and postsecondary institutions in the northeastern United States, it uses different sets of standards for the different types of schools it accredits.
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