This article will appear in the next issue of the ETJ—English Teacher’s
Why have a standards-based curriculum
and what are the implications for the teaching-learning-assessment process?
Chief Inspector for English
Up until now, the Israeli educational
system has not included curricula based on standards. However, in July
1998, the Pedagogical Secretariat of the Ministry of Education, Culture
and Sport approved of a standards-based curriculum for the teaching of
English in Israeli schools. Since the notion of setting standards is a
new concept in Israel, it is important to understand what the significance
is of having a national curriculum based on standards and what the implications
are for the teaching-learning-assessment process.
Although the purpose of this article is
not to describe the English curriculum, I have included in the appendix
the standards for the four domains of language learning (Appendix
One) and the standards and benchmarks for one of the domains--social
interaction (Appendix Two) -- in order for the
reader to have a better understanding of the curriculum that is being referred
The first issue to be addressed is standards.
First, the term is defined. Second, the importance of setting national
standards is explained. Third, the advantages and disadvantages of setting
standards and how the English curriculum deals with these problems are
Definition of Standards
According to Collins Cobuild dictionary, “a
standard is a level of quality or achievement, especially a level that
is thought to be acceptable. It is something used to measure or estimate
the quality or degree of something, for example, how good a piece of work
is” (p. 1421).
In the field of education, standards
is a term which defines a cumulative body of knowledge and set of competencies
that is the basis for quality education. They express what all pupils should
know and be able to do, but do not dictate pedagogy (Ministry of Education,
1998; Ravitch, 1996)
Importance of Having National
Setting national standards allows for equal
pupil opportunity. First, all pupils are compared to the same standards.
If there are no common standards and every teacher sets his or her own
standards, schools’ demands on their pupils will be different. Since there
is nothing for schools to compare with, both instruction and assessment
cannot be consistent.
Second, if national standards are set,
it is clear what pupils should know at different levels of their education.
Exams given by the state can measure pupil progress towards attaining the
standards. Pupils who are not achieving the standards can be provided with
early, effective assistance.
Advantages of Setting Standards
Setting standards is an important and effective
learning tool because they express clear expectations of what all pupils
should know and be able to do with the language. They can be helpful to
different populations, such as the state, districts and schools, teachers,
pupils and parents. The following describes how setting standards can help
these different populations (Harris & Carr, 1996).
The state. For the state, standards
are a common reference tool and provide a defined framework for national
Districts and schools. For districts
and schools, standards provide a focus for developing new ways to organize
curriculum content, instructional programs and assessment plans.
Teachers. Standards help teachers
design curriculum, instruction and assessment on the basis of what it is
important to learn. They also enable teachers to make expectations clear
to pupils, which improves their learning.
Pupils. For pupils, standards set
clear performance expectations, helping them understand what they need
to do in order to meet the standards.
Parents. Since standards communicate
shared expectations for learning, they allow parents to know how their
children are progressing in their education.
of Setting Standards in Other Countries and
How the English Curriculum Deals
with These Problems
In America, concerns were raised that setting
standards would lead to centralized education and would undermine innovation
at the local level. Setting standards was seen as an attempt to centralize
a decentralized educational system; defining standards would limit what
pupils should learn and would not allow for pupil diversity and the specific
needs of different populations (Fiske, 1998).
In Israel, the educational system is already
centralized and the standards-based curriculum attempts to partially decentralize
it. The curriculum defines what pupils are expected to do at different
levels of performance in four areas of language learning: social interaction,
access to information, presentation and appreciation of literature,
culture and language. Teachers will now have autonomy to decide how they
want to teach in order that their pupils achieve the standards. Teachers
are therefore encouraged to become active participants in the development
of curriculum materials that follow the principles stated in the curriculum,
and that are appropriate for their specific learning populations.
The standards defined in the English curriculum
do not weaken the capacity of our schools or districts to respond to the
diversity of their pupil population. The aim of the document is to serve
the needs of an increasingly diverse pupil population, while at the same
time sustaining high standards of performance demanded in today’s society
by employers and universities.
In some cases, there have been objections
by the public regarding the standards that have been defined. For example,
the National Center for History in the Schools, at the University of California
at Los Angeles, prepared standards for history in collaboration with scholars,
teachers and organizations. The standards were not approved, as they were
thought to be too politically biased (Ravitch, 1996).
This issue has not been a problem with
the English Curriculum. The standards have been approved by the Pedagogical
Secretariat in the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, as well as
by the English Advisory Committee, which consists of experts in the field
of foreign language acquisition.
An additional caveat is that the standards
should reflect a high level of achievement, while being realistic and relevant
to the context in which they are being taught. In California, for example,
the State Board of Education decided to innovate large-scale curriculum
change. Instead of working with the regular course sequence of algebra,
geometry, etc., they decided to integrate the content of these subjects
in a new way. This proposed approach, however, had never been tried anywhere
(Evers, 1997). To avoid this problem, the writers of the standards for
the English curriculum scrutinized standards set up in different states
and countries (Foreign Language Standards, 1998; National Standards in
Foreign Language Education; Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages,
1996). These standards were then adapted accordingly for the Israeli pupil
The Role Standards
Play in the Teaching-Learning-Assessment Process
The second issue describes the role that standards
play in the teaching-learning- assessment process. An example of how a
standards-based curriculum affects this process will be given.
Standards require a change in both teaching
and assessment. Standards and assessment are intertwined and need to be
integral parts of the curriculum and the program of instruction.
In traditional curricula, content matter
that pupils are expected to know is determined. It follows that the purpose
of testing is to see if the pupils have learned the specific knowledge
indicated in the curriculum. Recent approaches to how pupils learn have
changed from the behavioral view of learning to that of cognitive learning
theories, and the constructivist approach to knowledge acquisition (Birenbaum,
1996; Herman, et.al. 1992). Similarly, assessment is no longer seen as
testing pupils on an accumulation of isolated facts and skills, but emphasizes
the application and use of knowledge.
When working with standards, the assessment
system needs to be congruent with what is being tested and how. In standards-based
assessment, in addition to assessing pupils’ performance as compared to
that of other pupils (norm-reference assessment), pupils are assessed against
a standard (criterion-referenced assessment). This shift to standards-based
assessment helps create ‘a culture of success,’ (Willis, 1996) where all
pupils can achieve an acceptable level (Shanker, 1994). This is in contrast
to the variation in pupils learning as expected in the bell-shaped distribution
of grades (Wiggins, 1991).
In a standards-based curriculum, assessment
is viewed not only as a final product (summative), but also as a continual
process (formative) that provides pupil performance data to teachers and
students regarding their progress towards achieving the standards. The
curriculum sets benchmark levels of pupils’ achievement and progress towards
meeting the standards by describing what the pupils can do with the language.
Therefore, it is necessary to move beyond testing methods which concentrate
on memory, and develop those which measure understanding and application
(Genesee, et.al., 1998; Winters, 1995).
In order to assess if pupils have achieved
the different benchmarks, they are expected to demonstrate what they can
with the language by applying what they know about the language
to real-life situations. Assessing pupils’ performance focuses on their
ability to actively use language, which can be accomplished by using performance
assessment methods. Teachers need to determine which benchmarks to assess,
define the evidence of learning, create a context, decide on an audience,
develop a scoring guide and review and revise the task (Kentucky Department
of Education, 1998). This provides pupils and parents with useful information
about pupil performance towards attaining the standards.
As has been shown, standards cannot be
tested by current evaluative methods. Moreover, schools will have to change
the present method of reporting pupils’ progress to parents and pupils.
When working with a standards-based curriculum, schools will be able to
report pupils’ progress towards achieving the standards by indicating the
benchmarks they have achieved.
The ultimate judgment on the value of standards
must be whether their use in the classroom actually improves pupil performance
(Ravitch, 1996). Assessment provides the information necessary to guide
educators in determining pupil progress in attaining the standards, as
specified in the curriculum. Teachers, schools and the state are accountable
for pupils’ learning based on the attainment of these standards. Since
the standards provide a clear and defined framework for assessment, it
is therefore possible to ascertain the extent to which the standards have
In summary, the implications of a standards-based
curriculum for the learning-teaching- assessment process include:
and the CATs
both formative and summative assessment
a variety of assessment methods
assessment tasks which allow the pupils to
demonstrate their knowledge, including the criteria for assessment
developmental assessment showing progress
towards attaining the standards
assessment tasks which are integrated
learning-teaching-assessment process and do
not consist of only the final product.
The following is an example of how
a country, while attempting to initiate educational reform, radically changed
the assessment policy which, as a result, required them to set standards.
There is much that the Israeli educational system can learn from this country’s
experience in educational reform.
Twenty years ago, in Australia, the requirements
that were set for high school graduation did not match the changing needs
of the society. As a result, from
1998 -1992, the Australian Board of Education
phased-in a completely new senior secondary curriculum. They implemented
the VCE--Victorian Certificate of Education--which is not based
on testing, but rather on the completion of work requirements. Instead
of twelfth grade pupils preparing obsessively for final exams, they are
required to complete work requirements, known as the Common Assessment
Tasks, or CATs (Howe & Vickers, 1993).
Although some CATs are assessed under exam
conditions, over half of each pupil’s grades, and well over half of a pupil’s
work, involve conducting research and writing reports, making oral or audio-visual
presentations, constructing working models or preparing design briefs.
The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Board, therefore, built clear standards
and high expectations into the system's curriculum and codified these standards
in terms of grading criteria for the CATs.
While Australia's reform-oriented states,
like Victoria, are committed to sustaining high educational standards,
they are also convinced that tests alone cannot do this. Rather, it is
the purposive and meaningful work invested by pupils, and the support they
receive from their peers and their teachers to redraft and revise, that
determines how well they will perform. In order for such a system to work,
teachers need to be transformed from instructors to mentors— which demands
a substantial investment in professional development.
The changes to the Australia assessment
systems stand in contrast to the main assumption of many American schools,
where the term standards is taken to mean a return to a carefully defined
body of knowledge that needs to be articulated, required, studied, and
assessed. This way of defining standards assumes a view of knowledge as
a “given”, and good teachers are those who pass on this knowledge to their
pupils. In Australia, however, using VCE, classroom practice has changed.
With the focus on work requirements, pupils do more and teachers talk less.
The teacher’s job has developed beyond instructor into “mentor, explainer,
coach, co-problem-solver, reader of drafts and redrafts, suggestor, and
encourager. The new problem is to get pupils to produce, not simply
to remember” (Howe & Vickers, 1993, p. 37).
The standards-based English curriculum
intends to bring about changes in the learning- teaching-assessment process
similar to that of Australia where pupils will become “performing thinkers,
problem solvers and inquirers” (Brown, 1989, p. 33).
that Need to be Addressed
Standards in and of themselves are meaningless.
What counts are the steps that educators and others take to help pupils
reach them. (Fiske, 1998). If the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport
decides to embark on the implication of standards-based education, there
are different areas that they will need to be addressed regarding pupils,
teachers, assessment and the setting of standards. The following lists
some of those issues for each of the areas.
Do we expect all pupils to achieve all the
What academic intervention will be provided
to pupils who fail to meet the standards?
What will happen to pupils who have not achieved
the standards? Do they get left back? Are they allowed to graduate if they
have not achieved the standards?
How does one change teachers’ beliefs about
the teaching-learning-assessment process?
How can we help teachers deal with change
regarding their pedagogical values and beliefs and the development of new
methodological skills? (Markee, 1994)
What are the ways that we can help teachers
understand the document and the implications for their teaching?
What support can be given during the process
of teachers becoming more autonomous?
Standards and Benchmarks
How will pupils’ progress towards achieving
the standards reported?
What changes need to take place regarding
How will the state/district/school assess
whether pupils have achieved the standards at different levels? What measures
of accountability should be taken?
Will national/district tests give the country
a barometer for determining how well schools are doing and provide valuable
information on which pupils need additional assistance?
Should there be national testing at the end
of the foundation, intermediate and proficiency levels?
How can a bank of prototypes for performance
tasks, exhibitions, portfolio and project ideas be developed?
Who will set the standards?
At what levels will benchmarks be written?
What is the most appropriate format
for publishing the document, taking into account that the curriculum is
dynamic and changes will be made, especially regarding the benchmarks?
This article has raised the issue of the
importance of having a standards-based curriculum and what the implications
are for the teaching-learning-assessment process. The underlying assumption
of the importance of setting standards is that there is a national need
to raise standards and to equip pupils finishing an Israeli high school
with the knowledge of English that the modern world demands. In order for
pupils to achieve the standards, teachers will have to changes the way
they think about teaching and about how and what pupils learn in a foreign
language. As a result, radical changes in teachers’ perceptions of how
pupils are assessed will have to be considered.
If the standards movement is to gain momentum
in Israel, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport needs to encourage
chief inspectors of other subjects to develop standards-based curricula,
as it is will not be sufficient for only one subject area to implement
such a curriculum within a national educational system. Moreover, national
assessment policy that is congruent with a standards-based curriculum will
have to be formulated. Lastly, the Ministry of Education has to appropriate
funding for developing materials for teacher training and writing classroom
materials for both instruction and assessment.
Birenbaum, M. (1996). Assessment 2000:
Towards a pluralistic approach to assessment. In M. Birenbaum & F.J.R.C.
Dochy (Eds.), Alternatives in assessment of achievements, learning processes
and prior knowledge (pp. 3-29). Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Brown, R. (1989). Testing and thoughtfulness.
Educational Leadership, April, 31-33.
Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary.
(1992). London: HarperCollins Publishers.
Evers, B. (1997). Keep the academic bar
high. New York Times OP-ED. Sept. 23.
Fiske, E.B. (1998). Quest for standards
splits US Educators. International. Herald Tribune. Feb. 9.
Foreign Language Standards. (1998). URL:http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/standardslib/forlang.html
(Accessed March 23, 1998)
Harris, D.E. & Carr, J.K. (1996).
How to use standards in the classroom. Virginia: ASCD.
Herman, J. L., Aschbacher, P.R. &
Winters, W. (1992). A practical guide to alternative assessment. Virginia:
Genesee, F. Gottlieb, M. Katz, A. Malone,
M. Managing the assessment process. (1998). Virginia: TESOL.
Howe, H. & Vickers, M. (1993), Standards
and diversity down under. Education Week, July, 36-37.
Markee, N. (1994) Curricular innovation:
Issues and problems. Applied Language Learning, 5, 1-30.
Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport.
for Pupils of English: A Curriculum for Israeli Schools. Jerusalem:
Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport.
Kentucky Department of Education. (1998).
Designing an effective performance task for the classroom. URL: http://www.kde.state.ky.us/blrs/ocaa/dcad/PEM/TOC.html
(Accessed April 5, 1998.)
National Standards in Foreign Language
Education. (Pre-publication manuscript). Standards for foreign language
learning: Preparing for the 21st century.
Ravitch, D., (1996). 50 states, 50 standards
- The continuing need for national voluntary standards in education. The
Brookings Review, 14, 1-9.
Shanker, A. (1994). National standards.
In C.E. Finn, Jr. & H.J. Walberg (Eds.). Radical education reforms
(pp. 3-20). CA: McCutchan Publishing Corporation.
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other
Languages. (1996). ESL standards for pre-K - 12 students. Virginia: TESOL,
Willis, S. (1996). On the cutting edge
of assessment: Testing what students can do with knowledge. Education Update
ASCD ,38, 1-5.
Wiggins, G. (1991). Standards, not standardization:
Evoking quality student work. Educational Leadership, February, 18-25.
Winters, R.E. (1995). National Standards
in Education: How we should arrive at them, why we should arrive at them
and why we have not arrived at them yet. The Claremont Graduate School.
URL: http://www.mcrel.org (Accessed
May 28, 1998)
Standards for Each Domain
t a n d a r d s
communicate in English, orally and in writing, in different settings with
people from varied linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
obtain and make use of information in speech and writing from a variety
of sources and different media.
present information and ideas in an organized manner in a variety of formats
in spoken and written English on a variety wide range of topics.
of Literature and Culture, and Language
appreciate literature that is written in the English language and develop
sensitivity to a variety of cultures.
the nature of language and the differences between English and other languages.
of Social Interaction
in English, orally and in writing, in different settings with people from
varied linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
Standards for Each Level
and convey simple messages using comprehensible language.
use English fluently and appropriately to the social situation, using basic
language structures accurately.
effective communication in a wide range of social interactions using rich
vocabulary, idioms, idioms and accurate language.
Pupils will meet
the standards for the domain of social interaction when they:
ask and answer questions
about routine matters using comprehensible language
ask and answer questions
to gather and share personal information and opinions on past, current
and future events
ask and answer questions
on a wide range of general topics accurately
express feelings, likes
and dislikes in everyday situations
express personal wishes
and opinions about general topics such as current events and leisure activities
interact and respond
appropriately in conversations and discussions on a wide range of topics
give and follow simple
directions and instructions in familiar contexts
give and follow directions
and instructions in less familiar contexts
engage in a simple conversation
on personal topics such as family, hobbies
converse fluently on
engage in a conversation
confidently, adapting language to suit context, audience and purpose
give and receive information
in familiar contexts orally or in writing, such as notes
give and receive information
in a variety of contexts, orally or in writing, in person or by mail
give and receive information
using accurate language and varied vocabulary