The AFT believes that strong academic standards are essential if we are to dramatically improve student achievement and to gain public confidence in our education system. Clear, focused and rigorous standards serve to:
focus our collective energy and resources on improving the academic performance of our students;
help guarantee that all children, regardless of background or neighborhood, are exposed to a rigorous academic curriculum throughout their educational careers;
help everyone in the education system expect more rigorous learning; and
help ensure continuity of academic experience from grade to grade and school to school, mitigating the negative effects of student mobility.
Standards serve as the basis for developing curriculum, professional development, instructional resources and assessments. Standards should require that elementary school students be exposed to a solid foundation of knowledge and skills in a subject so that a more in-depth study of the subject is possible when students reach the upper grades. At each level, standards should be based on the content presented at the previous level, thus guiding curriculum from elementary to high school.
During the mid-1990s, as states began developing and implementing standards, it became apparent that setting high standards was only one piece of building and sustaining a comprehensive, coherent, and aligned approach to school improvement. The Standards Movement—in addition to developing high content and performance standards for what students should know and be able to do—must:
- Develop curricula aligned with the standards;
- Develop the capacity of schools and teachers to help students meet the high standards;
- Develop assessments to measure student progress toward the standards;
- Develop an incentive and accountability system that uses the results of assessments and other variables to provide intervention to school systems and schools that fail to raise students achievement; and
- Phase in a student incentive and accountability system based, in part, on assessment results.
Since 1995, AFT has tracked each state's progress toward establishing such a standards-based system. While we have documented some great improvements over the years, we have also learned that much work lies ahead.