There is some discussion about how we determine education standards in North Dakota. Education standards are the guideposts teachers use to determine if students have learned what they must know at each grade level or in each course.
Standards should not be confused with curriculum, which refers to specific lessons or resources North Dakota school districts choose in their schools.
It is important for state residents to understand how our state education standards are reviewed and adopted. Equally important is how our process differs from the processes used in other states.
In most states, a five- to seven-member state board of education reviews proposed standard changes before approval and adoption. It is an exclusive process that does not include outreach to educators or the public. That is not the way we do standard development and adoption in North Dakota.
In North Dakota, the Department of Public Instruction communicates throughout every standards review and adoption process, inviting comment from educators and the public.
Each time we review and revise education standards in North Dakota, we go through a process that involves educators who have expertise in specific course work.
Take the case of English, for example. In 2010, when the new standards for English and math based on Common Core were being considered in North Dakota, we assembled committees of 30 math educators and 35 English language arts educators who met and made a thorough comparison of the previous state standards with the proposed Common Core standards.
The committees included private and public school teachers, university-level instructors, and career and technical specialists, all who had classroom experience and expertise in determining what our students need to know in these content areas.
The role of each committee member included debate on the standards’ merits, potential impact on our schools, and consideration of comments received from fellow educators and the public.
The review and adoption process for the most recent North Dakota standards in English and math was publicized through four statewide news releases, which included requests for public comments, beginning in March 2010 through May 2011 before any formal approval and adoption of the standards.
These committees of educators seriously considered all public comments, worked independently and debated extensively the merits of the proposed standards based on the Common Core.
In the end, these committees of educators unanimously recommended that North Dakota adopt the standards.
The committees believed the revised standards define the higher expectations required to prepare our students for their next steps in life while also accurately reflecting North Dakota’s needs. The standards were recommended by North Dakota educators for North Dakota students.
The “pause” and “review” some states are now conducting on the Common Core standards is because residents in some states feel the process was not inclusive. Those states are conducting reviews to include educators and the public in the review and adoption of the standards, a replication of the process North Dakota spent15 months thoroughly completing to determine our path regarding the new standards.
North Dakota has done its background work on standards and now local districts are implementing the standards according to local curriculum and policies that best represent and address their respective students’ and communities’ needs.
Our focus continues to be the preparation of our students for life beyond high school and getting them ready for college and careers. Our goal is to give our students the best education our state’s schools can provide. We owe this to our students.
(Kirsten Baesler is the state superintendent for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.)