Priority Standards

Twenty-five years ago, when I was a classroom teacher in southeast Michigan, I was first introduced to the idea of Priority Standards. We called them Power Standards and I was NOT a fan.

As presented to me, Power Standards were those standards that I thought were the most important standards to teach to my students. The state had selected standards that they wanted all students exposed to, but these standards were to be the most important of that list. Two and a half decades ago, the novice teacher that I was felt so intimidated by this concept. Who was I to select the most important standards? If the state said everything was important, shouldn’t I just teach everything? My textbook claimed to be aligned, so why couldn’t I just start on page one and keep going until the end of the year? If I did buy into this “power” standards idea, how was I supposed to know if what I thought was so important aligned with what everyone else thought was important?

Out of a sense of compliance, I caved to the idea and engaged in a metaphorical arm wrestling match with the other teachers in my department as we leaned in to decide what was the most essential. The “power” standards, in this case, were the standards chosen by the most powerful, those with the most seniority, and those with the most resources. We chose standards because we “had more books aligned”, we “felt this was essential for life”, and we “have taught lessons on these topics for years.” We were not all united, but decisions were made.

As a middle school teacher, I often saw evidence of misaligned priorities at the elementary level. I could identify which students came from which schools and were exposed to which teachers, based on the knowledge base they came to me with. As a 6th-grade teacher, 7th-grade teachers often told me they could tell which students had me the year before because my students had tremendous exposure to specific content…and glaring gaps in others. And this is the major flaw with how priority standards are selected in most schools, even today. They are selected because of power instead of significance.

John Hattie reminds us that Collective Teacher Efficacy has a stronger impact on student success than any other pedagogical factor. When teachers are able to make strategic decisions, aligned towards student success, and implement their decisions with efficacy, students benefit. In many schools today, the selection of priorities has become an exercise in compliance more than an efficacious change in practice.

Across the 50 states in America, there is an average of 256 core academic standards for a student to learn in sixth grade across the 4 core subject areas of Math, Science, Social Studies, and Language Arts, each year. That equates to an expectation of mastering a standard every .7 days. 256 standards divided by 180 school days. Have you ever mastered anything in your life in less than a day? I know I haven’t. I also know this is an impossible task presented to teachers today.

The good news is, although there are 256 standards, not all standards are created equal…and your state knows this.

If you have ever heard me speak before, you have probably heard me claim, A standard is only standard if it is standard. Standards are not suggestions or dreams. They are expectations. A standard is a normalized expectation. It is the outcome anticipated for all students. And although a standard must be standard, all teachers and all students must interpret the standard the same way (aka- teacher and student clarity-see above) that does not mean all 256 standards must be learned to a level of mastery. What it means is, if we choose to select a standard as essential, as powerful, as a priority, we must all see it and interpret it the same way. But…how do we ensure that we are all selecting the right standards? If we cannot teach all 256, if we must have standard expectations, if we have big scary tests at the end of the year that judge us and our students, how can we make sure we are not prioritizing the wrong things and just teaching our interests in spite of what is essential?

In your classroom, you are already making strategic decisions based on your priorities every day. You weight your grades so that tests count more than classwork. You decide to ask ten questions on this quiz and five on the next. You have fifteen assignments this marking period and twelve last marking period. You are constantly making decisions, based on your professional judgment, resulting in weighted feedback. The SAT, the ACT, and your end-of-the-year big scary state test does the same thing. When students earn a scale score of 1200 or 22 or 399, they are earning points based on weighted values…aka-some questions are worth more points than others. Students are not scored just by their percentage of correct responses. They are scored by getting more of the “right” questions right. Not all questions are weighed equally. Some have more value and some have less value. How amazing would it be if we knew which were which so that we could align our instruction? Well…we can…

LED has a lot of weight….Not lead, LED.

Last year I was able to facilitate more than 100 trainings for schools across America. We discussed Standards-Based Grading, Aligned Assessment, Empowered Leadership, and Strategic Planning, but nothing caused more excitement among educators than learning about LED. LED- a heavy acronym that has the potential to change a school, a classroom, and a destiny.

Imagine a school, where instead of metaphorical arm wrestling taking place at every staff meeting, teachers were engaged in discussions about standards and their relative leverage, endurance, and depth. Imagine teachers engaged in conversations debating the alignment of assessment items and arguing about whether a student was being asked to analyze or synthesize. Imagine a space where across departments, teachers were focused on skills that enhanced horizontal alignment. Imagine a classroom where teachers were no longer grading students based on their ability to memorize or regurgitate information, but instead on their ability to evaluate and create. Imagine a time when there were no surprises on end-of-the-year exams because teachers have had consistent clarity of expectations all year long and those expectations also align with the state. Imagine “test prep” simply being business as usual.

This is what happens when we use the LED protocol.

In its simplest sense, the LED protocol asks us to focus on the standards that provide the greatest LEVERAGE, ENDURANCE, and DEPTH. Through a series of protocols designed to help teacher teams reach collective efficacy, the LED protocol allows teams to find consistent focus and alignment of priorities.

Leverage– standards that allow for success horizontally across a grade level, in multiple subjects. A standard that may appear in language arts, when mastered may provide assistance for mastery in social studies, science, or math, is a standard with LEVERAGE.

Endurance– standards that allow for success vertically within a subject or discipline. We have all made the argument that “this will help you later in life” without fully knowing what life will look like later on. Standards with endurance are not just focused on life skills and application, but success later in school with known standards and expectations. Learning how to cite textual evidence in fifth grade, for example, may be a foundation for analyzing an author’s purpose in seventh grade.

Depth– standards that require higher levels of critical thinking are standards that allow for greater transference and long-lasting retention. Asking students to memorize spelling words or vocabulary words may be easy to grade because of the binary nature of “got it/don’t got it”, but these skills of recall and understanding are also those that are often easily dislodged from long-term memories as more complex thinking of analysis, evaluation, and creation become more permanently implanted. The greater the depth, the greater the value.

Standards that have high LED scores are standards that carry more weight. These are standards that allow for exponential returns as there is greater alignment vertically and horizontally within classrooms. Reaching collective consensus on standards with LED allows for greater collective teacher efficacy…aka…increased student success, and not so coincidentally, higher standardized tests scores as focusing on standards with LED is also how a student can earn greater scale scores…the bigger the weight, the more LED.

Although there are many ways to determine priorities, using perceived power may not be the best there is. Focus on the focus. Lean into what matters most. Consider your options and settle for that which carries the most weight. LED.

Want to learn more about how to use the LED protocol in your school and how your students can begin with a focus on the focus, reach out to me today:


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