Special Report

Examples of Promising Practices

By David J. Hoff — January 11, 2001 9 min read
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As states move deeper into standards-based reform, they are experimenting with a variety of way to help teachers improve classroom instruction. They’re publishing manuals that explain how curricula should change, financing professional-development activities that support a standards-based approach, and operating Web sites that offer examples of lesson plans, curriculum units, and testing materials. Here is a sampling of what some states are doing to help make standards part of everyday life in schools. Each vignette represents a small piece of the state’s overall standards strategy.


In Delaware’s teacher-mentoring program, professional development must extend beyond one-day workshops and move into a daily learning experience.

Under the 5-year-old Teacher-to-Teacher Cadre program, districts identify expert teachers and assign them to coach peers on topics ranging from the academic content that classroom teachers are expected to teach to methods they can use to reach students.

The experts split their time between offering workshops and working one-on-one with teachers by observing them at work and helping them solve problems.

''We have found it very, very effective to have a peer so that [teachers] can work through the obstacles that are in their way,” says Linda F. Poole, the director of learning for the Colonial school district in New Castle.

State funding--$600,000 in the 2000-01 school year--acts as seed money for each district to hire at least one teacher-coach. Most districts supplement their state assistance with federal and local money to hire additional coaches, says Deborah H. Morgan, the education associate for professional development in the Delaware education department.

Colonial’s grant, for instance, pays for just two teachers to be mentors in a district that serve 10,000 students, Poole says. The district pools money from federal professional-development and block grants, as well as specific competitive grants, to pay for six more teacher-coaches. It hopes to add two more next school year. “It’s been one of the best things anyone’s ever come up with,” Poole says.

For more information, call Deborah Morgan at (302) 739-4885, or e-mail her at dmorgan@state.de.us.


In three, 45-minute classes about the solar system, Louisiana elementary teachers can cover three English standards and two science standards, according to a sample lesson distributed by the state.

The lesson is among about a dozen on Reaching for Results, a section of the state education department’s Web site. The ample lessons have also been put on a CD-ROM distributed to educators statewide.

Devised for children in grades 1-3 by a teacher in Calcasieu Parish, the lesson introduces students to the solar system and explains how planets move through it. It requires students to research planets and to make a presentation to classmates.

The unit satisfies three standards that call for students to practice writing, craft compositions, and be persuasive in presentations, and two science standards that ask them to describe “characteristics of objects in the sky” and understand the universe.

Such lesson plans are a common tactic for states to demonstrate how standards can be applied in classrooms. Inductees into the New York State Academy for Teaching and Learning post their work at www.nysatl.nysed.gov. Other states with sample lesson plans on their Web sites include Florida, Georgia, and Michigan.

The Reaching for Results Web site is at www.doe.state.la.us/doecd/reaching.asp.


While many states offer teachers minimal guidance about how to make standards real in classrooms, Kentucky produces manuals that offer a step-by-step guide to complying with the state’s standards and preparing students for state tests.

The state first published the “implementation manuals” for its program of studies in 1998. The manuals outline what students should know and how teachers can help them acquire the requisite knowledge in every subject and at every grade level.

Individual manuals for elementary, middle, and high schools are available on the Kentucky education department’s Web site. Each manual includes an extensive chapter for each of the subjects for which the state has standards: English/language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, health education, physical education, and the arts and humanities.

The manuals for elementary and middle schools also contain interdisciplinary models, while the high school guide includes an outline of world-language course, a high school elective.

The 4th grade math section, for example, suggests ways teachers might illustrate how to transform fractions into decimals and explains how students can write about such activities in their portfolios.

Essentially, the project is a compilation of advice the education department has been giving district since the beginning of Kentucky’s nationally watched school improvement drive in 1990, says Lisa Y. Gross, the department’s press secretary. “We have been doing things like what are in the implementation manuals, but not on this scale,” she says.

The guides are available online at www.kde.state.ky.us/oapd/curric/Publications/ImplementationManual. The department has not published them but will provide copies upon request.


Along with the questions that appear on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, the state releases illustrations of what students had to do to earn top scores on every open-response question in that state’s annual exam. The 2000 MCAS Sample Student Work and Scoring Guides are available online at the state education department’s Web site, www.doe.mass.edu/mcas/student/2000.

The Web site is among several state efforts to provide examples of what students should know and be able to do to master either a standard or answer a specific test question. Massachusetts releases every item, an action that goes further than the few samples that most states make public.

The Massachusetts guides include answers given to questions in every subject and on every grade level that the state tests, and they explain why each answer received a particular score on the state’s 4-point scale for open-response questions.

To earn the top score on a 4th grade probability question, for example, students must show a “thorough understanding” of the subject and “clearly and effectively” justify their answers.

In looking at a grid of numbers from 1 to 100, 4th graders were asked if it’s more likely that someone randomly placing a finger on the grid would land on a two-digit or one-digit number.

To earn a score of 4, the student needed to explain not only that the two-digit number was more likely, but point out that there were nine one-digit, 90 two-digit, and one three-digit numbers on the grid. A student who missed that distinction scored a 3, and one who did not explain why the two-digit number was more likely earned a 2. Students rated a 1 if they had the answer correct but offered an explanation that was incorrect. Students received no credit, of course, if they had the wrong answer.

The site also has links to pages with responses to every open-response question on the 1998 and 1999 MCAS.


In Maryland, a school’s principal, for example, can look at its Maryland School Performance Assessment Program results to understand how well its students are learning. Then he or she can go to a state-run Web site to see how well its students are learning compared with those in schools in similar circumstances.

At a section of the Maryland education department’s Web site, titled “Analyzing Your MSPAP Data,” educators and parents can read the scores of any school in the state and see how they stack up against the state goals. The state tracks each school’s scores on every subject and in a composite index dating back to 1993.

And by clicking on “Which schools similar to ours outscored us?” a user has access to a search engine that compare an individual school’s performance against that of other of about the same size, racial makeup, socioeconomic status, or language abilities.

The search engine determines rather quickly, for example, that Bethesda Elementary School in suburban Washington scored about in the middle of the pack in 5th grade reading compared with other schools in which 10 percent to 20 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches.

A graph on the Web site indicates that the highest-performing schools in the category saw between 70 percent and 82 percent of their 5th graders reach the state standards in 1999, while Bethesda Elementary had only 51 percent meet the standard.

The category also names the five top-scoring schools so that school administrators, if they wish, can compare curriculum, teacher quality, and other factors that may lead to those schools’ higher test scores.

The Web site is at mdk12.orgldata/index.html.


California offers a variety of experiences to help teachers learn the content of the state standards and the skills needed to teach that content.

Through the California Professional-Development Institutes and the California Subject-Matter Projects, teachers can sign up for summer workshops to help them improve their skills.

The professional-development program works primarily with teachers from schools with high numbers of new or uncertified teachers. At 60 sites throughout the state, teams of teachers and administrators attend 120 hours of summer workshops on reading instruction and assessments. In the next school year, workshop instructors schedule follow-up visits to participants’ classrooms. Participants earn $1,000 stipends.

When the program started in 1999, it focused exclusively on K-3 reading teachers. It has since expanded to offer workshop on middle school mathematics; high school math, reading, and writing; and for teachers of students whose English is limited.

The subject-matter projects, on the other hand, are available to teachers at all experience levels. They also address reading, writing, and math, as well as a wider span of content areas, including science, physical education, and foreign languages.

They offer year-round seminars on weekends and in the evening. Some districts hire workshop instructors to offer seminars for teams of teachers. Participants may receive stipends of varying amounts.

Both projects are run by a consortium that includes the University of California and California State University systems working with private colleges. For more information, see www.ucop.edu/cpdi/cpdi2.html.


To answer the age-old question, “Is this going to be on the test?” Connecticut officials have published extensive guides revealing the content and types of questions that will appear on the Connecticut Mastery Test.

In its “CMT handbooks,” the state lists the specific skills that will be expected of students in reading and math--the two subjects the state test covers--in the 4th, 6th, and 8th grades, the three grade levels at which it’s given.

The handbooks offer a blueprint of each test that includes the numbers of multiple-choice and open-ended items that are designed to assess students’ knowledge in each grade level. They include sample of items that appear on the tests. They also compare the content of the current state tests with what appeared on the previous ones.

While the testing program assesses student achievement in the 4th, 6th, and 8th grades, the handbooks give advice on instructional materials and strategies that teachers can employ starting in the 1st grade.

The guides suggest conducting an “ongoing review” of math skills so that students can practice every day what they already know how to do. They also give test-preparation advice that ranges from having students practice on state-approved forms to making sure tests are given in a well-lighted room.

Electronic versions of the handbooks can be found online at www.state.ct.us/sde/der/publications/student_assessment/index.htm.

In March 2024, Education Week announced the end of the Quality Counts report after 25 years of serving as a comprehensive K-12 education scorecard. In response to new challenges and a shifting landscape, we are refocusing our efforts on research and analysis to better serve the K-12 community. For more information, please go here for the full context or learn more about the EdWeek Research Center.

A version of this article appeared in the January 11, 2001 edition of Education Week


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