School Improvement in Maryland

Understand and Communicate Your Target

Today’s teachers are expected to take all students to proficient performance on a common set of grade level content standard indicators defined by the state. And schools have started to shift their focus from how well teachers are teaching to how well students are learning.

How do state standards change expectations for what happens in schools?

It is helpful for staff to understand the relationship of their AYP targets to the larger context — in this case, standards-based reform and NCLB. Standards-based reform has changed the way schools are held accountable, what and whom teachers are expected to teach, and what students are expected to learn.

Standards-based reform — already more than a decade old in many states — is really just starting to impact classrooms. Still, some teachers don't know the state standards, let alone have accepted the premise that they are expected to have all students attain the standards. Though not all classroom teachers are feeling the shift yet, No Child Left Behind will most certainly speed up the impact. In standards-based education, teachers are expected to teach a set of state defined content standards to all students. And for the first time in our public school history, the federal government through the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets, expects teachers and schools to get all students to proficiency by the 2013-14 school year.

It is important to recognize the huge shift that standards-based education requires of classroom teachers. Those of us who taught some time ago will remember the autonomy we had about what we taught and the expectation that as long as we delivered instruction to all students, we were not held accountable for all of our students learning it. Today's teachers are expected to take all students to proficient performance on a common set of grade level content standard indicators defined by the state. And schools have started to shift their focus from how well teachers are teaching to how well students are learning.

How do state standards change expectations for what happens in schools?
Before Standards After Standards
Focus on how well teachers taught Focus on how well students learn
Taught what they thought was important Teach specified content standards
Different expectations for different groups of students The same expectations for all groups of students
Students screened for higher level courses and activities All students have equity of opportunity for higher level courses and activities

What does this mean for classroom teachers? It means that they need to figure out what the content standards are that they need to teach. They need to understand how the state or their district has defined proficiency on the indicators associated with the content standards, and if an indicator has not been defined for teachers, they must reach consensus in grade level teams on what they will accept as proficient work. Teachers need to identify opportunities for students to demonstrate proficiency and understand how to interpret each student's performance. They need to monitor the progress of each student in their classroom over time and regularly examine the monitoring data to determine who is getting it and who is not. They need to use the data to make instructional decisions.

This shift in focus will be particularly painful for those veteran teachers who have developed years of lesson plans and activities, as they now must align classroom instruction and assessment with the state content indicators. For most teachers, this means they have to learn new content, learn how to assess and interpret student proficiency, collect classroom data to monitor progress, and regularly examine student work and data as a collaborative team process.