Education in the United States operates within a complex system. It is difficult to focus on any particular component without considering how it is influenced by and, in turn, influences other parts of the education system. For example, what students learn is clearly related to what they are taught; which in turn depends on the intended curriculum; how teachers elect to use that curriculum; the kinds of resources teachers have for their instructional work; what the community values regarding student learning; and how local, state, and national assessments influence instructional practice.
Standards created at the national level began working their way into this complex education system starting in the late 1980s (McLeod, Stake, Schappelle, Melissinos, and Gierl, 1996). Over time, the standards movement grew to include standards on content, teaching, assessment, and professional development, as well as standards specifying the support needed from the education system and public. Throughout the 1990s, professional organizations, educators, and national and state leaders continued to articulate the vision that the nation’s schools can and should support excellence and, more particularly, that all students should attain high learning goals (U.S. Department of Education [USDoE], 1991; National Educational Goals Panel [NEGP], 1996; USDoE, 2000b). Now, more than a decade into the standards movement, the overarching question concerns the impact of those standards on student learning.
This document provides a framework for thinking about the possible effects of nationally developed standards in three subject areas—mathematics, science, and technology. Those standards have been defined in documents published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) in Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (1989), Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics (1991), Assessment Standards for School Mathematics (1995), and Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (2000); by the National Research Council (NRC) in National Science Education Standards (1996); and by the International Technology Education Association (ITEA) in Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (2000).
Given that array of nationally developed standards, two related questions arise: How has the system responded to the introduction of nationally developed standards? and What are the consequences for student learning? In other words, what inferences can be made about what is happening in the “black box” between the development of national standards and any impact on student learning (Figure 1–1)?
The charge to the Committee that produced this document was to “develop a framework that can be used to understand the influence of science, mathematics, and technology education standards on programs, policies, and practices.” The Committee acknowledged early in its work that a body of research related to education standards is emerging—work that addresses questions of
impact on student learning and other aspects of the education system. However, no comprehensive map or conceptual overview has been available to guide the efforts of producers, interpreters, and consumers of that standards-focused research. This Framework is intended to address that need—that is, to provide guidance for the design, conduct, and interpretation of research focused on influences of nationally developed standards on student learning in mathematics, science, and technology.
The Framework describes key leverage points, identifies questions that need answers, and considers how evidence can be assembled to address those questions. However, the Framework offers no judgments about the standards themselves or their effects on the education system. That is, it does not consider whether the quality of current mathematics, science, or technology education has improved or declined due to nationally developed standards. It neither advocates nor criticizes the standards, and does not attempt to synthesize or interpret existing research concerning influences of standards. Rather, this Framework offers guidance and perspective both to the research community and to those who use the results of such research—policy makers, educators, administrators, scholars, and members of the public. The Framework is dedicated to helping this audience to formulate, conduct, and interpret research about influences on student learning—either positive or negative—of nationally developed standards in mathematics, science, and technology education, whether the standards are generally accepted or considered controversial.
As indicated by their publication dates, the standards for the three subject areas were created at different times. It is thus reasonable to expect that each field will be at a different place regarding dissemination and implementation of its standards. Each field also occupies a different position within the context of education. Historically, mathematics has been regarded as a basic skill in the school curriculum. Its prominence from elementary school onward has thus been assured—even though for a considerable
time, the notion of mathematical literacy for all did not extend beyond general numerical skills.
Science, although considered a “basic” in many states and districts, has not historically held a secure place in the K-12 curriculum. For example, instructional time allotted to science in elementary schools is generally much lower than time dedicated to reading or mathematics (Weiss, Matti, and Smith, 1994).
Technological literacy, as defined by the technology standards, is a relatively recent addition to the K-12 curriculum. Many educators seek clarity about the structure and form in which students should gain knowledge and skills associated with technology. For example, in many school systems debate continues about whether technology constitutes an area of discrete study or is a set of knowledge and skills that should be integrated into other school subjects.
Despite these variations, the Framework presented in this document is intended to allow both researchers and consumers of research to identify and analyze connections between standards and what students actually learn in these three subject areas. Although the Committee’s charge was to focus on nationally developed standards for mathematics, science, and technology, the Committee believes that this Framework is more generally applicable and could be used to guide inquiries into the effects of state or local standards and also into the impact of standards in other areas of the school curriculum.
Investigating the Influence of Standards is divided into eight chapters. The document first describes the nationally developed mathematics, science, and technology standards and the vision of teaching and learning implied by these standards (Chapter 2). Chapter 3 suggests a Framework for conceptualizing the influence on student learning of such national-level standards. The Framework identifies three key components of the education system— curriculum, teacher development, and assessment and accountability—as “channels” through which nationally promulgated reform
ideas might move enroute to classrooms, describing ways that elements within each channel may affect teaching and learning.
The Framework is designed to address two overarching questions: How has the system responded to the introduction of nationally developed standards? and What are the consequences for student learning? The overarching questions may be explored by analyzing each Framework component in terms of several more specific queries: How are nationally developed standards being received and interpreted? What actions have been taken? What has changed as a result? Who has been affected and how? Rather than providing answers, this document embeds those questions within an analytical Framework to guide others in seeking answers.
Chapters 4 through 6 examine the three Framework channels identified in Chapter 3. These chapters address: the curriculum— what shapes what is taught to whom (Chapter 4); teacher development—how teachers learn what and how to teach (Chapter 5); and assessment and accountability—what kinds of assessments are used and for what purposes (Chapter 6). Each chapter suggests where the influence of standards may be found within that channel and employs Framework questions to suggest areas of potentially useful investigation.
Chapter 7 addresses public, professional, and political communities, focusing on their possible involvement in standards-based changes. Influence from such external sources might flow into the education system and consequently affect the channels and what happens to teaching and learning in the classroom.
Finally, Chapter 8 suggests how the Framework might be used to situate existing studies within the educational terrain that is relevant to the standards, to critically examine claims and inferences advanced by these studies, and to generate hypotheses to be explored through future investigations.