Is Your Teaching Effective? Benchmarks for the Best Curriculum.

In the end, who decides whether a curriculum is good or bad?

The state, as it turns out. Whether a teacher chooses to go with subject-centered or student-centered curricula, each state has its own standards for success that students must meet in order for a curriculum to be considered acceptable and effective.

Whichever curriculum model is used, a well-planned curriculum should take into account the students’ needs, core material or concepts, and societal needs. Additionally, within a state-controlled system, schools also need to prove that they meet state-defined standards, that they are producing well-educated students, and that they are doing their jobs properly. This proof comes via the state and district testing systems, which are in turn based on the curricula.

Until now, students’ learning and education standards were judged in terms of competencies sometimes referred to as “skills” or “benchmarks.” Benchmarks are a clear measurement of what students at a particular grade level should know and be able to do. Benchmarks are set and vary from state to state. The state of Oklahoma, for example, has established target competencies applying to all the grades and subject areas, whereas Arkansas has established “benchmarks.” Alaska has provided curriculum frameworks in the form of software, which are accompanied by “Framework Resource Kits.” These kits are given to teachers of specific subjects by the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

Irrespective of their presentation, these monitoring systems provide standards that reflect the basic principles on which the various curriculum areas are based. The competency levels represent what are considered to be levels of minimum knowledge and skills that individual students need to be able to demonstrate at each respective grade level. These state standards can also be changed— and assessment systems adjusted accordingly—based on a variety of factors. These factors include new research on learning, the changing needs of society and of the increasingly globalized and technology-centric workforce, and economic and political situations.

While these standards are not, and should not be, the only curriculum teachers teach, they provide the starting points. They can also be considered as the endpoints, as state tests are set according to these standards, and are used to judge the quality of a school and its students. Many states now have a ranking system for schools, either ranking schools in relation to other schools within the state, or through a letter-grading system (A–F), as is the case in Florida. Texas rates its schools as Exemplary, Recognized, Academically Acceptable, Acceptable, Unacceptable, or Low Performing.

Check into what types of curriculum structures have been used in your school and schools around you. What did they look like? How did the measure up to your state’s standards? Use the information of past curricula’s failure or success to help guide your own curriculum design.

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