At the most fundamental level, when a school adopts a standards-based approach, it is committing to a program that utilizes research-based and widely-recognized external sets of standards as its framework for instruction. Often, international schools serving large American expatriate communities will adopt the U.S.-based Common Core State Standards for English and math, the National Core Arts Standards for the visual and performing arts, the Next Generation Science Standards, the SHAPE standards for physical education, and the College Career and Civic Life framework for social studies and the social sciences. These sets of standards provide subject-specific progressions of learning through the articulation of learning targets at each grade level.
Further, adopting a standards-based approach means educators are teaching to the standards, rather than from a textbook. This is not to say, however, that textbooks aren’t used. Instead, in a standards-based approach, a textbook becomes a primary resource to be utilized during the instruction rather than being the thing upon which the instruction is based; it serves as a useful first point of reference for teachers and students to be used - or not - along the progression towards a predetermined learning target.
Take, for example, the Next Generation Science Standard HS-LS-2-7 for a high school biology class which reads, “Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.” A typical high school biology textbook will very likely have discussion about this topic, but it is unlikely to have the full breadth of what a student needs in order to achieve the competency described by the standard. That is to say, any high school biology textbook is likely to provide key ideas about ‘human impact on the environment and biodiversity’ but it is doubtful that any would be able to adequately address the important processing and critical thinking skills of ‘designing, evaluating, and refining a solution’. Consequently, in order to nurture students towards the higher-order thinking being called for by the standard, a teacher must move beyond the textbook and engage students in other ways and with other resources.
Schools that adopt a standards-based program are calling on their educators to hold their instruction accountable for teaching the developmentally appropriate skills, processes, and content vetted by experts in their fields. Students who have had the benefit of studying through a standards-based program can be assured they are receiving an education that allows them to accumulate the prerequisite knowledge for further studies, while also developing the critical thinking processes and myriad other skills necessary to be a productive member of an increasingly diverse, complex, and rapidly-changing society.
Developing a program that is standards-based is one of the many ways educators at YISS have shown their commitment to providing an exemplary education for students, and is a component of YISS’s Continuous School Improvement Plan. For more about standards-based learning at YISS, please review the YISS SBL Overview and be on the lookout for future articles that will dive deeper into particular aspects of standards-based learning.