An E-newsletter on EXCELLENCE in Leadership

Enhance your School Identity with Standards-based Learning

By Andrew Carpenter | Principal—Mile High Academy




B eing an instructional leader is one of the most important roles for a school administrator. In the context of Adventist Education, a significant part of instructional leadership is to provide a curriculum that aligns with our Christ-centered philosophy and intentionally guides students to discover God's plan for their lives. From this perspective, given love, time, opportunity, and quality instruction, all students can achieve and reach their highest potential—the key phrase being all students, regardless of learning style, socioeconomic background, or family history. A program of this nature requires a high level of intentionality and design. Standards-based Learning provides a foundational framework to accomplish this.

As America transitioned from farm to factory, there was a need to industrialize and formalize American education. The result was the formation of the structure we know in education today with core subject areas taught independently and student achievement measured on a hundred-point scale that sorted students into groups. (Mackenzie, 1894) The structure of the hundred-point scale provided a systematic way to sort students into groups based on how they compared to others. Top performers became managers, average performers became the bulk of the workforce, and those at the bottom took the label of failure. This is what it was designed to do. It put students in competition with one another, comparing them with other students instead of measuring student achievement with clearly defined criteria. (M. Alcock, personal communication, May 14, 2019)

Starting my career as a Bible teacher, I found it difficult to communicate the Gospel to students through this form of grading and reporting. As I have reflected on this, I realized that the difficulty came from the subtle nuances of sorting and comparing communicated through traditional grading using the hundred-point scale. Given the time in which the scale was developed, it performed well. It accomplished the task of systematizing education in a model that fit the economic structure of the day. However, this structure does not match the context in which we live today, and even more importantly, it does not support our philosophical understanding of the purpose of Adventist Education.

Consider the long-distance runner. Such an athlete could conceivably complete a marathon in just about any type of shoe—hiking boots, sandals, cleats, slippers, or a pair of running shoes. The key is design. Which shoe is best designed to accomplish that specific task? When we look at the foundations and structures that we choose to implement as educational leaders today, we must consider the design of the structure and compare it with what we want to accomplish. For decades, educators have done a tremendous job of using the traditional structure of the hundred-point scale to accomplish their tasks. But does that design provide the best structure to achieve what we have set out to do?

In my journey with Standards-based Learning, the blessing that I have found is that it provides a foundational framework for a genuinely student-centered curriculum that better communicates the Gospel. It provides a framework for descriptive feedback on student learning, helps track product, progress, and the process of student learning, develops all students instead of sorting them, and gives the freedom to express our identity as an Adventist school.



Mackenzie, J. C. (1894, March). The Report of the Committee of Ten.
The School Review, 2(3), 146-155. www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/1074830.pdf

October 2021 | Volume 10, No. 3

Standards-based Learning  NAD Principals’ Handbook Excerpt

Standards for student learning have been developed in subject areas under the direction of the NADOE. In developing these standards, resources such as the compendiums of current state/provincial standards and subject-area standards developed by professional organizations have been referenced.

Standards identify what a student should know and be able to do. Standards are to be used by the teacher in planning, implementing, and assessing the instructional program. Teachers are responsible to provide instruction that allows for all students to achieve the standards.

It is the principal’s responsibility to:

  • Ensure that standards are available to and utilized by the teachers.
  • Provide training for teachers in the use of the standards.
  • Determine that assessment is aligned with the standards.


Standards for Adventist Schools

May be obtained by subject area on the Adventist Education website.



Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity of working with educators at several schools as we learn to teach and grade with standards-based learning (SBL). It has been a circuitous journey. Along the way, I have been fortunate to work with many intelligent people like supportive, innovative, out-of-the-box thinking principals, fellow teachers who are willing, even excited, to engage the learning, and sharp, savvy consultants from the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) and Marzano. Nevertheless, the journey has been bumpy, filled with starts and stops because change is chaotic and frustrating, but it is also fantastic and energizing. While the transition is rarely smooth, my experience created five non-negotiables to achieve a smoother journey to standards-based learning:


Non-negotiables on the Way to Standards-Based Learning

Jeni Schmidt

English Teacher and SBL Coach—Columbia Adventist Academy


Change is hard. It is challenging in the best of circumstances, but SBL involves a philosophical shift in thinking. Covey (1989) calls it a paradigm shift. He explains that a paradigm is “the way we ‘see’ the world—not in terms of our visual sense of sight, but in terms of perceiving, understanding, and interpreting” (p.23). Teachers need time to absorb this shift, mull it around in their minds, and come to terms with ideas that might go against the way they think about instruction and grading. It is challenging to apply theory to practice.

Slow down


Bring Everyone Along

For change to stick, all stakeholders must, at some point, buy into the initiative. “Successful reformers seek out leaders from all constituencies, get their input, keep them informed, and let them lead. This also ensures that reforms remain institutionalized and are never about a single person” (Battelle, 2011, p. 1). It is imperative to engage every stakeholder and then get out of the way. Just like we believe every student can learn, so can every superintendent, principal, teacher, parent, and board member.


Make a Plan

“Quality doesn’t reside in good intentions but in processes.” This was the mantra of our brilliant consultant, Dr. Mary Helen Spieri of CES, who helped lead Rio Lindo Academy’s initiative. It makes sense. Plans give us structure, make the journey measurable, and hold us accountable. A plan is a light in the dark, a guide. Be sure to include all affected stakeholders in the planning. Honor the budding teacher leaders at your school by giving them a voice.


Appoint Teacher Leaders

Principals cannot be the only educational leaders at a school. It is vital to establish leadership capacity by creating and nurturing a culture of growth and developing teacher leaders throughout the school. “Studies indicate that school leaders and teachers must commit, participate, and have leadership capacity for a school to sustain meaningful change” (Williams, 2001, p.1). Systemic change does not work as a one-person show. Every participant has to have “skin in the game.”


Create Professional Learning Communities

Principals cannot be the only educational leaders at a school. It is vital to establish leadership capacity by creating and nurturing a culture of growth and developing teacher leaders throughout the school. “Studies indicate that school leaders and teachers must commit, participate, and have leadership capacity for a school to sustain meaningful change” (Williams, 2001, p.1). Systemic change does not work as a one-person show. Every participant has to have “skin in the game.”


Battelle for Kids. (2011). Successfully implementing transformational change in education.

Communications Lessons Learned [PDF]

Covey, S. (2020). The 7 habits of highly effective people. Simon & Schuster.

Marzano, R.J., Warrick, P.B., Camerone, L.R., & Dufour, R. (2018). Leading a High Reliability School.  Solution Tree Press.

White, E.G. (2021).  Mind, Character, and Personality, Vol. 1. E.G.W. Writings.

Williams, H.S. (2009). Leadership Capacity – A Key to Sustaining Lasting Improvement. Education, 130(1), 30-41.

In Ministry of Healing, Ellen White wrote, “Never think that you have learned enough, and that you may now relax your efforts. The cultivated mind is the measure of the man. Your education should continue during your lifetime; every day you should be learning and putting to practical use the knowledge gained” (p. 499). This is why we keep striving, reading the latest educational research, and delving into best practices. The effort is worth it because we are doing it for HIS kids.

Standards-Based Learning: 
A Compass to High Achievement and Rigor

By Maria Stratton | Junior High Vice Principal for Academics—Loma Linda Academy




Our world is interconnected now more than ever before. As educators, we persist in our goal of helping our students succeed and become confident in their learning. We not only want to educate them for the present times but also their future. In trying to meet the needs of a diverse student population, the question that Adventist teachers ask is how do we know if what we are teaching is what our students need to learn? I frequently find myself questioning what I am planning to teach and how I plan to assess my students’ learning. Standards-based learning confidently answers my questions concerning teaching. Standards help define what our students should learn and how to perform proficiently. The standards we choose to follow can come from the North American Division, our local state standards, national Common Core standards, or even subject-specific nationally recognized standards. These lists of grade level-specific expectations serve as guidance or a road map to planning and assessment. The first step is to work with your team, school, principal, or school board to determine which set of standards drive instruction in your school.

Different factors contribute to incorporating standards teaching in the classroom. Goal setting is the primary factor in using standards to guide your instruction. Setting specific learning goals will determine what standards need to be taught in a subject. S.M.A.R.T. goals, developed by George Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham, are a prime example of what type of goals a teacher should create when mapping out their instruction. Not every standard is of equal value. Some standards are much more in-depth and require much more instruction than others. Those are our priority standards which have a much higher importance in our curriculum planning. Selecting priority standards as a grade-level team or subject matter helps teachers focus on their curriculum, instruction, and assessments to support student achievement. Using standards also provides a common language that all teachers can use when sharing their ideas. It is helpful to collaborate with your team as you begin focusing on your goals and choosing the priority standards.

With standards-based learning, you teach students to use critical thinking while increasing student engagement, leading to a student-led classroom, where students become active participants in their learning. There is freedom in having standards direct our teaching. As an educator, I don’t feel confined to a twenty-year-old textbook or restricted by a curriculum that does not benefit my students. There is freedom in looking at grade-level standards to create learning goals for my students while incorporating their interests and even my own, which leads to higher student engagement. Aligning my teaching, curriculum, and assessments to the standards leads to effective student achievement. I am confident in my teaching, my students are engaged, and they are mastering the skills that I know they will need for the future. In the end, I have found that standards-based learning is not an elusive concept to grasp but rather a clearly defined compass that can be incorporated into any school system, creating rigorous instruction and high student achievement.

Goal setting is the primary factor in using standards to guide your instruction.


Issue Coordinator

Doug Herrmann

Retired Educator

Newsletter Editor

Berit von Pohle, Editor

Director of Education,

Pacific Union Conference

Ed Boyatt, Editorial Advisor