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What Are 'National Standards'? Groups Define Them Differently

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Washington--Behind the growing consensus on the need for national standards in core subject areas, there is considerable confusion over a basic question: What are standards, anyway?

Are they, as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has suggested, a set of principles of what should be taught, against which educators could compare current practice?

Or are they judgments about levels of achievement students should attain, as the National Assessment Governing Board has proposed?

"We obviously need to get a common definition of terms," said Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, co-chairman of the National Council on Education Standards and Testing. "Different people use them in different ways."

In announcing that the council has agreed that national standards are desirable, Mr. Romer said the panel has also agreed on a common definition. The standards, he said, would answer two questions: What do you want, and how do you know you have it?

Definitions of what skills and knowledge students should acquire--which is what the nctm outlined in its 1989 document, "Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics"--will be called "content standards," Governor Romer said.

Starting with such standards, he said, educators can develop tasks that illustrate whether students know the concepts presented in class, and then make judgments about how much they need to know to succeed.

Such judgments, he said, should be called "performance standards."

"What we are talking about with 'national standards,"' Mr. Romer said, "are guidelines for what youngsters should know and be able to do to be citizens who can compete in the world economy."--rr

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