If content standards are to fulfill their role of supporting assessment development and the setting of achievement standards, they must describe examples of performance expectations for students in clear and specific terms. Moreover, it is helpful if the central standards document suggests the basis on which distinctions between levels of proficiency can be made, even before specific decisions are made about how the achievement standards will be set. An exhaustive description of every performance level for every standard is unrealistic. However, if the developers of content standards have clear beliefs about aspects of scientific knowledge and skills that should be associated with basic, proficient, and advanced performance, they should indicate this as a guideline for the setting of achievement levels.
To be effective, state science standards need to be more thorough and thoughtful than most are at present. However, that does not mean that science content standards alone would be adequate to serve the needs of teachers, test developers, students, parents, and policy makers. Supplementary material must be developed to help communicate the standards widely and to elaborate on them for practitioners, policy makers, and others. Users of the standards need guidance in applying them, in part because research has not answered every conceivable question; standards will, and should, inevitably leave room for judgment at the school district, school, and classroom levels. Each state will develop its own strategy for elaboration, based on its existing resources, but it is important that the elaboration process be as inclusive as possible, so that all relevant stakeholders become familiar with the standards. It is also important that the supplementary materials be designed to “stretch” the standards to meet the needs of different audiences. A few examples illustrate the type of materials we have in mind.
The state may need to elaborate on the standards to help teachers apply the curriculum and develop instructional plans that link the standards. These materials may contain references to approved curricula, suggested lesson activities, and sources of supplemental lesson materials, and they would certainly contain examples of student work that satisfy the standards. They may also contain information about the prior knowledge and experiences that students need to learn the information embodied in a given standard, sources of difficulty that students commonly encounter with the content, common misconceptions that they hold about the topic, connections between this standard and others in science, and connections between this standard and standards in other disciplines. There is no common label to describe such elaborations, but a good descriptive term might be standards-based lesson support. As teachers work with students, particularly as they assess student understanding in class, they will learn more about the prior