Standards-based reform largely started with the release of a report titled “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.”  The commission contained 18 members and was lead by David Pierpont Gardner.  It essentially found that the American Education system was failing and that students simply could not do the jobs that the country needed done.  The commission felt that the Federal government played an essential role in the education of gifted, poor, minority, language minority and handicapped students.  While President Reagan was looking to abolish the Department of Education, the commission was arguing for expanding its role (“Standards-based education reform,” 2010).  The Federal and State governments have granted essentially unlimited funds to assist in the educational goals of students with disabilities.  The other groups have so far been unsuccessful.

In 2000, George W. Bush proposed what we now call “No Child Left Behind.”  It was a very popular piece of legislation which required all students meet strict standards.  It was concocted under the pretense that all students can reach at least a certain minimum competency in various areas as long as teachers do their job correctly.  If a school does not meet the required level of achievement they can lose Federal funding.  In an effort to give additional help to politically protected demographics, more money is spent for minorities and special education than in the general classroom.  Due to the money that is available for simply meeting the standards, there is little money or effort directed at students who are exceeding them.  The government is not financially rewarding schools for producing gifted students.

Usually when standards are defined they are used as a filter and the expectations are put on the individual.  In the public education system there is a prevailing idea that intelligence can be taught.  If a student does not meet the requirements then it is the fault of the teacher or the school in general.  We are not weeding out students who can understand the things required to obtain a High School diploma.  We are playing with numbers and adjusting standards so that everyone qualifies.  Colleges are not expected to have a 100% graduation rate in every program.  It would indicate a failure on the part of the college.  It would mean the standards are too low and it would be labeled a “diploma mill.”  However, we do not seem to find issue with turning K-12 schools into diploma mills.  The Federal Government and the States want to have standards and claim to enforce them but in reality do not.  A special education student who could not do Algebra will receive a diploma while a straight A student who completed Calculus will be denied a diploma if they fail a standardized test.  There seems to be disagreement on what a high school signifies.

According to the Arizona Department of Education the goal of standards is to “ensure that high school graduates in every part of the nation have the knowledge and skills they need for college or a career” (“Arizona academic standards,” 2010).  The converse of that goal should be that a student who does not have the knowledge or skills for college or career will not graduate high school.  Generally if there are two tests for a particular thing and the two tests on contradictory, one or both tests are thrown out.  Apparently a single test is such a perfect indicator that not even maintaining a passing GPA through 3 or 4 years of high school can argue differently.

TESOL lays out standards and goals for students from K-12 (“Esl standards for,”).  By understanding where students are, where they should be and where they need to go, teachers can more effectively cater material to the individual’s level of English proficiency.  A student who is in 3rd grade may only be proficient in English up to the 1st grade standards.  Only by having the standards would a teacher know this.  The teacher can incorporate 2nd grade standards into the lessons as a review for other students and to assist the trailing student in catching up.  The teacher may also create homework or extra credit for the trailing students to work on outside of class so the pace of the in-class work can be sustained.

The Student Accountability Information System (SAIS) is a program developed in Arizona that allows teachers to store information related to students including their academic process (Arizona Department of Education).  Teachers can also create student portfolios to keep work samples for later review.  By having clear standards laid out in a progressive manner it is possible for a flow chart to be created.  With the SAIS system and portfolios it is possible to check off progress along the path.  The student can easily see where they are expected to go and work ahead if they choose to.  They can also self review and find resources to cover the standards they are struggling with.

The variety of standards available allows teachers to pick those standards which are best suited for their particular subject matter.  While many ELL students learn English during elementary years where one teacher is responsible for all subjects, other students learn English while taking classes with specialized teachers.  By allowing teachers to focus on certain standards they can better serve the student while not taking away from the content standards that are required.  The variety of standards also allows teachers to focus on particular standards that a particular student may need help on.  A teacher can help a student master a particular skill rather than take time for things the student is already proficient at.

Standards play an import role in education in that they define what students must learn to earn a particular level of academic or language achievement.  With ELL students they are on two simultaneous tracks: language and academics.  Both tracks have independent standards that can be mixed and matched based on the needs of individual students.  One of the barriers to maintaining high standards is the fear of failure and money that is lost with it.  The government demands success within a limited timeframe for all students which is simply unobtainable without lowering the standards: both when considering language and when considering academics.  Currently, the standard of 100% graduation is more important than high academic standards.


Arizona academic standards. (2010, March 11). Retrieved from

Standards-based education reform. (2010, March 10). Retrieved from

Esl standards for pre-k-12 students, online edition. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Arizona Department of Education. (2009). The Monitoring Process. Office of English Language

Acquisition Services. Retrieved from


Leave a Reply