Questions and Answers about Academic Standards

Defining the Academic Standards

What are academic standards?
Academic standards specify what students should know and be able to do, what they might be asked to do to give evidence of standards, and how well they must perform. They include content, performance, and proficiency standards.
  • Content standards refer to what students should know and be able to do.
  • Performance standards tell how students will show that they are meeting a standard.
  • Proficiency standards indicate how well students must perform.

Why are academic standards necessary?
Standards serve as rigorous goals for teaching and learning. Setting high standards enables students, parents, educators, and citizens to know what students should have learned at a given point in time. The absence of standards has consequences similar to lack of goals in any pursuit. Without clear goals, students may be unmotivated and confused.
Contemporary society is placing immense academic demands on students. Clear statements about what students must know and be able to do are essential to ensure that our schools offer students the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for success.

Why are state-level academic standards important?
Public education is a state responsibility. The state superintendent and legislature must ensure that all children have equal access to high quality education programs. At a minimum, this requires clear statements of what all children in the state should know and be able to do as well as evidence that students are meeting these expectations. Furthermore, academic standards form a sound basis on which to establish the content of a statewide assessment system.

Why does Wisconsin need its own academic standards?
Historically, the citizens of Wisconsin are very serious and thoughtful about education. They expect and receive very high performance from their schools. While educational needs may be similar among states, values differ. Standards should reflect the collective values of the citizens and be tailored to prepare young people for economic opportunities that exist in Wisconsin, the nation, and the world.

Developing the Academic Standards

Who wrote the academic standards and what resources were used?
Academic standards for the non-state-assessed subjects were drafted by task forces appointed by the state superintendent. The task forces consisted of educators, parents, board of education members, and business and industry people. After reviewing national standards in the subject area, standards from other states, and standards from local Wisconsin school districts, each task force diligently and thoughtfully composed the academic standards for its respective subject.

How was the public involved in the standards process?
Public input is crucial to the success of implementing high-quality standards. It was absolutely essential that the final academic standards reflect the values of Wisconsin's citizens.
Forums, focus groups, and input on the discussion drafts of the academic standards were used for getting citizens' ideas. Drafts of the standards were widely available throughout the state-including the DPI home page available on the Internet. All input received serious consideration.

Using the Academic Standards

Must a district adopt Wisconsinís Model Academic Standards?
Adopting Wisconsin's Model Academic Standards is voluntary, not mandatory. By law, however, districts must have academic standards in place by August 1, 1998, in reading and writing, geography and history, mathematics, and science. Districts may adopt the model state standards, or standards from other sources, or develop their own standards. Although not required by law to have standards in the other subjects, districts may choose to adopt or develop academic standards in those areas as well.

How will local districts use the academic standards?
Districts may use the academic standards as guides for developing local grade-by-grade curriculum. Implementing standards may require some school districts to upgrade school and district curriculums. In some cases, this may result in significant changes in instructional methods and materials, local assessments, and professional development opportunities for the teaching and administrative staff.

What is the difference between academic standards and curriculum?
Standards are statements about what students should know and be able to do, what they might be asked to do to give evidence of learning, and how well they should be expected to know or do it. Curriculum is the program devised by local school districts used to prepare students to meet standards. It consists of activities and lessons at each grade level, instructional materials, and various instructional techniques. In short, standards define what is to be learned at certain points in time, and from a broad perspective, what performances will be accepted as evidence that the learning has occurred. Curriculum specifies the details of the day-to-day schooling at the local level.

What is the link between statewide academic standards and statewide testing?
Statewide academic standards in mathematics, English language arts, science, and social studies determine the scope of statewide testing. While these standards are much broader in content than any single Wisconsin Student Assessment System (WSAS) test, they do describe the range of knowledge and skills that may appear on the tests. If content does not appear in the academic standards, it will not be part of a WSAS test. The statewide standards clarify what must be studied to prepare for WSAS tests. If students have learned all of the material indicated by the standards in the assessed content areas, they should do very well on the state tests.