Putting the Content Standards and Benchmarks to Work
The November 2007 issue of Literacy Links focused on the new Texas Adult Education Content Standards and Benchmarks for ABE/ASE and ESL Learners (Implementation Guide). My article for the issue explained the essential terminology of the Texas Content Standards and Benchmarks and reviewed the history of Standards-Based Educational Reform in adult education. Now that we have content standards and benchmarks for Texas adult education programs, how do we use them within our programs and in our classrooms?
Content standards and benchmarks provide a means to communicate more clearly about the ongoing educational activities within Texas’ adult education programs. It will take time for all of the teachers and administrators in Texas to become comfortably fluent speaking “Content Standards and Benchmarks,” but the effort will be worthwhile. It will increase the accuracy of our communications about educational goals and instruction among teachers, between teachers and students, and between programs and the community.
Because content standards define “what is important for students to know and be able to do within a specific content area,” (Implementation Guide, p. 114) we can put them to use during the new student orientation process. Adult learners come into adult education programs with a life goal in mind – to get a job, to learn English, to pass the GED, or to find a better job. Standards can help us describe clearly the educational steps learners will need to take to reach their life goals.
During intake and student orientation, we begin a conversation with students about their goals and the classes and services that the program offers. Using information from the intake interview and placement test results, the content standards can help us translate life goals into appropriate learning goals and an educational plan. However, since the Texas Adult Education Content Standards and Benchmarks are written for teachers, it would be confusing to most adult learners if we shared them directly. Teachers will have to translate the content standards for students, put them into context, and discuss them when assessing progress and setting goals with students.
With students, begin by sharing the Examples of Proficient Performance found in the Implementation Guide Version 1.0 (pp. 43-47 and pp. 75-81). These examples are written to be shared with learners. The examples will help learners “see” the progression of learning goals to be mastered and the skills they will need to develop to reach their life goals. The Proficient Performance examples for each of the content standards describe real-life activities and applications at each of the six NRS Educational Functioning Levels. Once learners can recognize their progress toward their overall goals, motivation often increases, and they begin to take more control of their own learning.
Content standards also help adult education programs communicate information about the services we provide to the broader community. The Texas Adult Education Content Standards and Benchmarks reflect what the stakeholders of the adult education system believe should be taught and learned. We can now clearly say, “This is the educational content that we are committed to deliver to our clients.”
The content standards and benchmarks are also important as teachers discuss, design and deliver instruction on the local level. Local programs have the responsibility to develop curricula and instruction that meets the needs of the students in the program. Curricula normally address learner and community needs and often suggest textbooks, teaching methods, learning activities, or sequence. The content standards describe what should be learned, but the local programs decide how that content can best be taught to meet the needs of the adult learners in their local programs.
Today we live in a highly mobile society, and content standards can simplify student transfers from one program to another. While local programs will have different ways of delivering instruction, the educational goals described by the Texas Adult Education Content Standards and Benchmarks provide an overall, program-to-program consistency for the adult education system. It should make placing transfer students into classes easier, and it will make the transfer easier for our adult learners as well.
Learner-centered educational practice asks teachers to meet the students “where they are” and lead them toward their educational goals. To do this, teachers need as much information as possible about each student’s skill level in many content areas. Placement and progress tests are not specific enough to reveal definite areas of need. However, teachers can use the Benchmarks to guide their classroom observations and determine a student’s skill level on many tasks.
Teachers can use Benchmarks as a guide because they describe the abilities students are expected to demonstrate at each level of each strand of each content standard. The Texas Content Standards have been divided into sub-skill areas or strands. The strands represent areas of knowledge, skill, or a strategy that students need to develop to be able to meet the standard. For example, the strands under the content standard Read with Understanding are Determine Purpose, Vocabulary Development, and Decode and Recognize Words. Every strand would have Benchmarks written for each of the six NRS levels that describe what a student should be able to do upon exiting that level. For each benchmark, real-life examples are provided which describe the kinds of tasks students should be able to perform at that level.
With information gathered by ongoing classroom observation and from the student’s class work, teachers can use the benchmarks to determine the student’s functioning level. You might discover that two students, who scored the same on the placement exam, are actually quite different in certain skill areas. One may be very good at decoding words but is a level or two lower in his or her vocabulary development. Another student may be just the opposite.
This is the kind of information that is useful if teachers are to meet students “where they are.” The information can be used to decide what kind of individual assignments would be best for each student. This more detailed information can also be used when assigning students to work in pairs or on small group projects.
As Texas adult educators continue to work with the Texas Adult Education Content Standards and Benchmarks in the classroom, they will discover many other ways to use them. When you make a discovery in your classroom as you continue to implement and experiment with content standards, be sure to share your discovery with others in your program. We would also love to hear about your discoveries at TCALL.
American Institutes for Research, Adult Education Content Standards Warehouse Project. (2005, August). A Process Guide for Establishing State Adult Education Content Standards. Developed under contract to the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education, available at http://www.adultedcontentstandards.ed.gov/howto.asp
Texas Center for the Advancement of Literacy and Learning, College Station, TX, Texas Adult Education Standards Project. (2007, June). Texas Adult Education Content Standards and Benchmarks for ABE/ASE and ESL Learners: Implementation Guide, Version 1.0. Retrieved August 22, 2007 from the Texas Center for the Advancement of Literacy and Learning Web site: http://www-tcall.tamu.edu/taesp/guide/cover.html