The term “standards” is often used loosely in a way that does not distinguish between content and achievement standards. However, both kinds of standards are important, and they must work together. We turn now to some issues that relate to the setting and use of achievement standards. Achievement standards are means of defining levels of performance. Because there are a variety of ways to set them, they can take a variety of forms. In some contexts—licensure tests for airline pilots and surgeons, for example—they are used to mark a minimum level of acceptable performance. In other settings, more general descriptions of performance that sort students into achievement levels, such as basic, proficient, and advanced, are used. Achievement standards are important for many reasons:

  • They provide teachers with targets for instruction by specifying what, and how much, students must be able to do to demonstrate mastery of the content standards and the achievement level that is called for.

  • They provide clear directions to test developers about the kinds of performance situations and tasks that will be used to make judgments about student proficiency.

  • They provide a tool for evaluating the alignment between standards and assessments that is more precise than an analysis of the content match between the two.

  • They help standard setters by suggesting the basis on which judgments about levels of proficiency should be made.

  • They provide a framework for aggregating data drawn from different sources of information to document performance.

  • They help to clarify for the public what it means for a student to be classified at a particular level.

Before considering the NCLB requirements for achievement standards, it is useful to note the different ways in which the term “achievement standard” is used. To test developers and psychometricians, an achievement standard is represented by the point on a test score scale that separates one level of achievement from another (a passing score from a failing one, for example). To educators involved in the development of curriculum and instruction, the term can mean a description of what a student knows and can do to demonstrate proficiency on a standard. To others, it can mean examples of student work that illustrate a particular level of performance. Hansche (1998) defines achievement standards (which he refers to as performance standards) as a system that includes performance levels (labels for each level of achievement), performance descriptors (narrative descriptions of performance at each level), exemplars of student work that illustrate the full range of performance at each level of achievement, and cut scores that differentiate among the achievement levels. The key characteristics

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