Magic Vine Jr.

A Magical, Educational Place for Kids!

The Many Facets of Common Core Standards Based Education – Part 2

Photo courtesy of photographer Ming-yen Hsu

Standards-Based vs. Standards-Referenced (continued)

In a standards-referenced system, teaching and testing are guided by standards; in a standards-based system, teachers work to ensure that students actually learn the expected material as they progress in their education. Another way of looking at it is that standards-referenced refers to inputs (what is taught) and standards-based is focused on output (what is learned).

All fifty states in the United States have developed and adopted learning standards that schools and teachers are expected to follow when they create academic programs, courses, and other learning experiences.The following examples will help to illustrate the distinction between standards-based and standards-referenced:

Assessment: A teacher designs a standards-referenced test for a course. While the content of the test may be entirely standards-referenced (it’s aligned with the expectations described in learning standards), a score of 75 may be considered a passing score, suggesting that 25 percent of the taught material was not learned by the student who scored a 75. In addition, the teacher may not know what specific standards students have or have not met, if only the scores test and assignments are summed and averaged. If the teacher uses a standards-based approach to assessment, however, students would only “pass” a test or course after demonstrating that they have learned the knowledge and skills described in the expected standards. The student may need to retake a test several times or redo an assignment, or they may need additional help from the teacher or other specialist.


Curriculum: In most high schools, students typically earn credit for passing a course, but a passing grade may be an A or it may be a D, suggesting that the awarded credit is based on a spectrum of learning expectations. Because grades may be calculated differently from school to school or teacher to teacher, and they may be based on different learning expectations, students may earn the required number of credits, and receive a diploma without acquiring the most essential knowledge and skills described in standards. The curricula taught in these schools may be standards-referenced. In standards-based schools, however, educators will use a variety of instructional and assessment methods to determine whether students have met the expected standards, including strategies such as demonstrations of learning, personal learning plans, portfolios, rubrics, and capstone projects.

Grading: In a standards-referenced course, grading may look like it traditionally has in schools: students are giving numerical scores on a 1-100 scale and class grades represent an average of all scores earned over the course of a semester or year. Standards-based grading and reporting are typically connected to descriptive standards. For example, students may receive a report that shows how they are progressing toward meeting a selection of standards. The criteria used to determine what “meeting a standard” means will be defined in advance, often in a rubric, and teachers will evaluate learning progress and academic achievement in relation to the criteria. The reports students receive might use a 1-4 scale with 3s and 4s indicating that students have met the standard.