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In recent years several reports on standards development have established “standards for standards,” that is, guidelines for developing standards and criteria for judging their quality. These include the review criteria identified in Promises to Keep, the American Federation of Teachers’ “Criteria for High Quality Standards,” published in Making Standards Matter (1995), and the “Principles for Education Standards” developed by the Business Task Force on Student Standards and published in The Challenge of Change (1995). New Standards drew from the criteria and principles advocated in these documents in establishing the “standards” we have tried to achieve in these performance standards.

Standards should establish high standards for all students.
The New Standards partnership resolved to abolish the practice of expecting less from poor and minority children and children whose first language is not English. These performance standards are intended to help bring all students to high levels of performance.

Much of the onus for making this goal a reality rests on the ways the standards are implemented. The New Standards partners adopted a Social Compact, which says in part, “Specifically, we pledge to do everything in our power to ensure all students a fair shot at reaching the new performance standards…This means they will be taught a curriculum that will prepare them for the assessments, that their teachers will have the preparation to enable them to teach it well, and there will be…the resources the students and their teachers need to succeed.” These performance standards are built upon the assumptions expressed in that pledge.

There are ways in which the design of the standards themselves can also contribute to the goal of bringing all students to high levels of performance, especially by being clear about what is expected. We have worked to make the expectations included in these performance standards as clear as possible. For some standards it has been possible to do this in the performance descriptions. For example, in Mathematics, we have gone beyond simply listing problem solving among our expectations for students. We set out just what we mean by problem solving and what things we expect students to be able to do in problem solving and mathematical reasoning. In addition, by providing numerous examples we have indicated the level of difficulty of the problems students are expected to solve.

The inclusion of work samples and commentaries to illustrate the meaning of the standards is intended to help make the standards clearer. Most of the standards are hard to define precisely in words alone. In the conceptual understanding standards ( - ), for example, the work samples show what it means to use, represent in multiple ways, and explain the important mathematical concepts. The commentaries describe how these aspects of conceptual understanding are evidenced in the student work samples. The work samples and commentaries are an integral part of the performance standards. They give concrete meaning to the words in the performance descriptions and show the level of performance expected by the standards.

The work samples will help teachers, students, and parents to picture work that meets standards and to establish goals to reach for. Students need to know what work that meets standards looks like if they are to strive to produce work of the same quality. Students also need to see themselves reflected in the work samples if they are to believe that they, too, are capable of producing such work. The work samples included in this volume not only illustrate the meaning of the standards but also reflect the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the students studying in New York City’s public schools.

Standards should be rigorous and world class.
Is what we expect of our students as rigorous and demanding as what is expected of young people in other countries—especially those countries whose young people consistently perform as well as or better than ours?

That is the question we are trying to answer when we talk about developing world class standards.
Through successive drafts of these performance standards, we compared our work with the national and local curricula of other countries, with textbooks, assessments, and examinations from other countries and, where possible, with work produced by students in other countries. Ultimately, it is the work students produce that will show us whether claims for world class standards can be supported.

We produced a Consultation Draft, which we shared with researchers in other countries. We asked them to review the Consultation Draft in terms of their own country’s standards and in light of what is considered world class in their field. Included among these countries were Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, England and Wales, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Scotland, Singapore, Sweden, and Switzerland. We asked these reviewers to tell us whether each standard is at least as demanding as its counterparts abroad and whether the set of standards represents an appropriately thorough coverage of the subject areas. We also shared the Consultation Draft with recognized experts in the field of international comparisons of education, each of whom is familiar with the education systems of several countries.

Our reviewers provided a wealth of constructive responses to the Consultation Draft. Most confined their responses to the Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science standards, though several commended the inclusion of standards for Applied Learning. The reviewers supported the approach we adopted to “concretize” the performance standards through the inclusion of work samples. Similar approaches are being used in some other countries, notably England and Wales and Australia. Some of the reviewers were tentative in their response to the question of whether these performance standards are at least as demanding as their counterparts, noting the difficulty of drawing comparisons in the absence of assessment information, but did offer comparative comments in terms of the areas covered by the standards. Some reviewers provided a detailed analysis of the performance descriptions together with the work samples and commentaries in terms of the expectations of students at comparable grade levels in other countries.

The reviews confirmed the conclusion we had drawn from our earlier analyses of the curricula, textbooks, and examinations of other countries: while the structure of curricula differs from country to country, the expectations contained in these performance standards represent a thorough coverage of the subject areas. No reviewer identified a case of significant omission. In some cases, reviewers noted that the range of expectations may be greater in the New Standards™ Performance Standards than in other countries; for example, few countries expect young people to integrate their learning to the extent required by the standards for investigation in New Standards Mathematics. At the same time, a recent study prepared for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reports that many countries are moving towards expecting students to engage in practical work of the kind required by the New Standards Science standards (Black and Atkin, 1996). The reviews also suggest that these performance standards contain expectations that are at least as rigorous as, and are in some cases more rigorous than, the demands made of students in other countries. None of the reviewers identified standards for which the expectations expressed in the standards were less demanding than those for students in other countries.

We will continue to monitor the rigor and coverage of the New Standards™ Performance Standards and assessments in relation to the expectations of students in other countries. In addition to the continued collection and review of materials from other countries, our efforts will include a review of the New Standards™ Performance Standards by the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, collaboration with the Council for Basic Education’s plan to collect samples of student work from around the world, continued review of the American Federation of Teachers’ series, Defining World Class Standards, and collaborative efforts with visiting scholars at the Learning Research and Development Center.

Standards should be useful, developing what is needed for citizenship, employment, and life-long learning.
We believe that the core disciplines provide the strongest foundation for learning what is needed for citizenship, employment, and life-long learning. Thus, we have established explicit standards in the core areas of Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science. But there is more. In particular, it is critical for young people to achieve high standards in Applied Learning—the fourth area we are working on.
Applied Learning focuses on the capabilities people need to be productive members of society, as individuals who apply the knowledge gained in school and elsewhere to analyze problems and propose solutions, to communicate effectively and coordinate action with others, and to use the tools of the information age workplace. These are capabilities that were highlighted in Learning A Living, a report of the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS, 1992).

Applied Learning is not about “job skills” for students who are judged incapable of or indifferent to the challenges and opportunities of academic learning. Applied Learning refers to the abilities all young people will need, both in the workplace and in their role as citizens. They are the thinking and reasoning abilities demanded by colleges and by the growing number of high performance workplaces, those that expect people at every level of the organization to take responsibility for the quality of products and services. Some of these abilities are familiar; they have long been recognized goals of schooling, though they have not necessarily been translated clearly into expectations for student performance. Others break new ground; they are the kinds of abilities we now understand will be needed by everyone in the near future. All are skills attuned to the real world of responsible citizenship and of dignified work that values and cultivates mind and spirit.

Many reviewers of drafts of these performance standards noted the absence of standards for the core area of social studies, including history, geography, and civics. At the time we began our work, national content standards for those areas were only in the early stages of development; we resolved to focus our resources on the four areas we have worked on. As consensus builds around content standards in this additional area, we will examine the possibilities for expanding the New Standards system to include it.

Standards should be important and focused, parsimonious while including those elements that represent the most important knowledge and skills within the discipline.
As anyone who has been involved in a standards development effort knows, it is easier to add to standards than it is to limit what they cover. It is especially easier to resolve disagreements about the most important things to cover by including everything than it is to resolve the disagreements themselves. We have tried not to take the easier route. We adopted the principle of parsimony as a goal and have tried to practice it. At the same time, we have been concerned not to confuse parsimony with brevity. The performance descriptions are intended to make explicit what it is that students should know and the ways they should demonstrate the knowledge and skills they have acquired. For example, the standards relating to conceptual understanding in Mathematics spell out the expectations of students in some detail.

The approach we adopted distinguishes between standards as a means of organizing the knowledge and skills of a subject area and as a reference point for assessment, on the one hand, and the curriculum designed to enable students to achieve the standards, on the other. The standards are intended to focus attention on what is important but not to imply that the standards themselves should provide the organizing structure for the curriculum. In Mathematics, for example, we have established a separate standard for skills and tools. This does not imply that skills and tools should be taught in isolation from other elements of Mathematics. Our intention in defining a separate standard for skills and tools is to make it clear that the work students do should be designed to help them achieve the Skills and Tools standard. Skills and tools should not only be among the things assessed but should also be a focus for explicit reporting of student achievement.

Standards should be manageable given the constraints of time.
This criterion follows very closely on the last one, but focuses particularly on making sure that standards are “doable.” One of the important features of our standards development effort is the high level of interaction among the people working on the different subject areas. We view the standards for the four areas as a set at each grade level. This orientation has allowed us to limit the incidence of duplication across subject areas and to recognize and use opportunities for forging stronger connections among subject areas through the work that students do. A key to ensuring the standards are manageable is making the most of opportunities for student work to do “double” and even “triple duty” in relation to the standards. Most of the work samples included in this volume demonstrate the way a single activity can generate work that allows students to demonstrate their achievement in relation to several standards within a subject area. Furthermore, several of the work samples show how a single activity can allow students to demonstrate their achievement in relation to standards in more than one subject area. For example, “Counting on Frank,” at the elementary level, is also included in the Language Arts volume of these standards to illustrate the narrative procedure part of the writing standard.

Standards should be adaptable, permitting flexibility in implementation needed for local control, state and regional variation, and differing individual interests and cultural traditions.
These standards are intended for use in widely differing settings. One approach to tackling the need for flexibility to accommodate local control and differing individual interests and cultural traditions is to make the standards general and to leave the job of translating the standards into more specific statements to the people who will use them. We have not adopted that approach. Performance standards need to be specific enough to guide the assessment of students’ achievement of the expectations established by the standards; we have tried to make them specific enough to do so. We have also tried to achieve the degree of specificity necessary to do this without unduly limiting the kinds of flexibility outlined above. Most of the standards are expressed in a way that leaves plenty of room for local decisions about the actual tasks and activities through which the standards may be achieved.

However, the specificity needed for standards intended to guide an assessment system does place some limits on flexibility. To tackle these apparently contradictory demands on the standards, we have adopted the notion of “substitution.” This means that when users of these standards identify elements in the standards that are inconsistent with decisions made at the local level, they can substitute their own. There is, however, one important provision: substitution only works when what is substituted is comparable with the material it replaces in terms of both the quality and the quantity of expectation.

Standards should be clear and usable.
Making standards sufficiently clear so that parents, teachers, and students can understand what they mean and what the standards require of them is essential to the purpose for establishing standards in the first place. It is also a challenge because, while all of these groups need to understand what the standards are, the kinds of information they need are different. The most obvious difference is between the way in which the standards need to be presented to elementary school students so that they know what they should be striving to achieve and the way in which those same standards need to be presented to teachers so that they can help their students get there. If the standards were written only in a form that elementary school students could access, we would have to leave out information teachers need to do their job.

This version of the standards is written primarily for teachers. It includes technical language about the subject matter of the standards and terms that educators use to describe differences in the quality of work students produce. It could be described as a technical document. That does not mean that parents and students should not have access to it. We have tried to make the standards clear and to avoid jargon, but they do include language that may be difficult for students to comprehend and more detail than some parents may want to deal with. Efforts to make the standards more accessible to audiences other than teachers need to take these differences into account.

Standards should be reflective of broad consensus, resulting from an iterative process of comment, feedback, and revision including educators and the general public.
These performance standards were the result of progressive revisions to drafts over a period of eighteen months. Early drafts were revised in response to comment and feedback from reviewers nominated by the New Standards partners and the New Standards advisory committees for each of the subject areas, as well as other educators.

The Consultation Draft, published in November 1995, was circulated widely for comment. Some 1,500 individuals and organizations were invited to review the draft. The reviewers included nominees of professional associations representing a wide range of interests in education, subject experts in the relevant fields, experienced teachers, business and industry groups, and community organizations. In addition, we held a series of face-to-face consultations to obtain responses and suggestions. These included detailed discussions with members of key groups and organizations and a series of meetings at which we invited people with relevant experience and expertise to provide detailed critique of the Consultation Draft. We also received numerous responses from people who purchased the Consultation Draft and who took the trouble to complete and return the response form that was included with each copy.

The revision of the performance standards was further informed by a series of independently-conducted focus group meetings with parents and other members of the community in several regions of the country, and with teachers who were using the Consultation Draft.

The reviewers provided very supportive and constructive commentary on the Consultation Draft, both at the broad level of presentation and formatting of the performance standards, and at the detailed level of suggestions for refinements to the performance descriptions for some of the standards. These comments significantly influenced the revisions made to the standards in the preparation of the publication in finished form.