An E-newsletter on EXCELLENCE in Leadership

October 2020 | Volume 9, No. 3

Principals’ Handbook 2020 Update

CURRICULUM STANDARDS 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.

Download the New 2020 Principals' Handbook Today!


Why Standards-Based Learning?

Craig Mattson | Vice-President for Education—Washington Conference




Can we do this better?" is the burning question that drives the best teachers. How can we improve and move toward best practices? In Adventist education, we embrace this question as a driver on our journey to excellence. Standards-based learning is the next destination on this journey. It is not merely a step towards best practice, but a paradigm shift that can move the entire student experience to a new level. This shift is not another tool in the teacher’s toolbox or even a new pedagogical method; it is a total system shift that rethinks planning, curriculum, instruction, and assessment. The resulting product of this shift answers our initial question with a resounding, “Yes!” we can do this better. Teachers who are effectively implementing standards-based learning in their classrooms see students perform at higher levels, see students are more engaged with the content, and watch students discover the joy of owning their own learning experience.

For teachers, moving from traditional methods to standards-based learning will be a journey. They will need to approach this journey with a growth mindset knowing the application of these new learnings will vastly improve their craft and their classroom experience. Teachers will also experience a deep level of gratification when partnering with colleagues on this journey as standards-based learning equips teaching teams with a common language for learning and a unified pedagogy that aligns best practice across grade levels. While growing these new professional competencies will be a process, standards-based learning will provide teachers with a clear direction to streamline their planning, clarify daily instruction, and leverage assessments as powerful tools for student learning.

For students, the power is in personal ownership. Ask this question to a typical classroom of middle schoolers; “What will you be learning tomorrow?” The answers will vary widely, but there will be a general level of cluelessness regarding the details of the lesson. While teachers have a plan for tomorrow, the student school experience is often a guessing game. Standards-based learning takes the guesswork out of the curriculum, placing ownership of the learning process in the students’ hands. Ask the same question to a standards-based middle school classroom, and you may hear an answer like this; “Tomorrow, we will be learning how to break down different shapes to find their areas. Our learning goal is to calculate the area of a polygon.” To assume a student answers a question like this is not an over-exaggeration, nor are we handpicking a top performer. Students in a standards-based classroom provide answers like this because they have the tools they need to fully understand their learning process and learning goals.

The Seventh-day Adventist education system has a long history of seeking out and applying best practices. Standards-based learning is an excellent opportunity for Seventh-day Adventist teachers to harness this new art and science of classroom teaching.


Focused on Learning, Not Earning . . . Grades

Jennifer Schmidt | Teacher and Instructional Coach—Columbia Adventist Academy

The classroom is humming. The teacher has just completed a mini-lesson, and the students are immersed in practice. The day’s learning objective is written on the whiteboard, and the practice is laser-focused on it. Each student is fully aware that practice gets them to the objective. While it might not be evident at first, these students are learning in a standards-based classroom. Standards-based teaching and learning reveals itself in a classroom in subtle ways.

One way a standards-based classroom distinguishes itself from the traditional is that the focus of the day, the standard, is written on a whiteboard or a poster. Often, the teacher has changed the language to an “I can” student-friendly language, while highlighting particular words to narrow the focus. Stop and ask any student in the room what they are doing, and each will know.

In addition, each student receives a copy of a proficiency scale, built around the current learning objective, the standard, and lists the steps to achieve it. The teacher continually refers to this scale and often has the students informally assess their learning progression. The proficiency scale helps each student know what they need to learn next, and this knowledge helps direct the teacher’s next steps.

A standards-based classroom is not your typical stand-and-deliver type of teaching. While the teacher does engage in direct instruction, a standards-based classroom is often immersed in learning strategies. Learning strategies help students engage in critical thinking and are self-directed opportunities for learning. Students are learning, rather than listening to the content.

Formative assessments are collected in a standards-based classroom. Students might take a quick pressure-free quiz that gives both the teacher and the student important information about future learning. Homework is commonly referred to as practice and is another essential piece of the puzzle. Whether it is practice or an assessment, each piece of work is labeled according to the learning objective the class is currently working on. While the teacher will score work for evidence of learning, students can go back and relearn what they missed.

Reassessment is another critical piece. Because the teacher is most interested in what the students know and can do, each student is given as many opportunities as they need to learn the material and reassess, whether it a quiz or a test. Essential to this process is a Reassessment Agreement where the student reflects on the first assessment, and together, the student and the teacher build a plan for relearning. The reassessment score replaces the first score, and the student is not penalized for relearning.

In a standards-based classroom, it is entirely about learning, not earning a grade. In this context, a student’s grade is solely based on academic factors. While other factors such as effort and attitude are important, they do not influence the student’s academic grade. They can and ought to be reported separately.

The most exciting evidence of true standards-based teaching and learning is when students talk to their teachers about what they know and can do. Instead of seeking points, students seek mastery. They go to their teachers asking to reassess their knowledge of particular learning objectives because they have taken the time to relearn them. A standards-based classroom is student-centered and motivating, a place where students take charge of their learning.


The Path to Proficient Learning:

One School’s Journey to Standards-Based Learning

Brandon O’Neal | Principal—Portland Adventist Elementary School






Portland Adventist Elementary School (PAES) has transformed its curriculum and grading to a standards-based learning program to better support students in their learning journey. This transition significantly shifts the view of each student’s learning journey. Students become owners of what they are learning and the extent to how much they desire to learn. Teachers write the learning standard in level-appropriate language to give students a clear picture of the expected outcome. Standards, also known as critical concepts, are prioritized so that students can experience a greater depth instead of a quick skimming of their learning.

A powerful tool to help students take ownership of their learning is proficiency scales. These help students monitor their growth in skills across all subjects and have four levels: starting with level one as the baseline through level four representing mastery. For example, in mathematics, rounding would be one skill. Teachers provide their students with guidelines for each lower-level skill as they progress to mastery, framed positively with “I can” statements. Using the proficiency scales, teachers, and students track learning more specifically. Teachers can use this information to personalize the learning journey for each student. Since students learn at different paces and standards-based learning seeks to honor that, proficiency reports can always be updated to reflect when a student has progressed in a standard.

Improved communication with students about their learning is another great benefit. Letter grades have become an ambiguous stigma for students that present a shallow understanding of what truly matters in their learning. The proficiency scales and standards-based learning process eliminates this ambiguity through consistent feedback and guidelines for measuring student progress. In addition, clear communication with students regarding skills increases opportunities for them to take more ownership of their learning. Students use the guidelines to set learning goals and to know the skills they need to develop to attain those goals.

Standards-based learning fosters a common vocabulary in the standards across all grade levels, which benefits the students as they progress. Even in younger grade levels, teachers will use the actual terms for processes instead of simplified language. For example, in mathematics, students will use “sum” instead of “answer.” This vocabulary gives students a solid foundation for recognition of terms as they progress into more challenging skills. Also, standards-based learning creates a positive framework school-wide in using language like “growth” instead of “grades” and “emerging learners” for students that are lagging in a standard instead of “behind.” By honoring each student where they are in their learning journey, we hope to reestablish what it means to truly be a learner versus a label.

Although our school has just begun the standards-based learning journey, we already see the transformation in our students. There is a pride that comes with learning when students know where they are and where they are going. A sense of excitement is felt here at PAES as we watch our students grasp, seek, and work to improve their learning with a clear map of their goals.



Guest Coordinator

Dennis Plubell

Vice President for Education

North Pacific Union Conference

Newsletter Editor

Berit von Pohle, Editor

Director of Education,

Pacific Union Conference

Ed Boyatt, Editorial Advisor