Recently, my state and district have made a push to select and use power (or prioritized) standards in our classrooms, and it got me thinking: What is the formal definition of power standards? Are power standards something new that could truly revolutionize my teaching? How can I involve students in the process? Are power standards and priority standards the same thing? I set out to do some informal research to build on my classroom experience to see if I could answer some of these questions and see how I could use power standards in my classroom.
What are Power Standards?
Power standards refer to the most important standards that a department, grade-level, district, and/or state select for students to demonstrate mastery of. Power standards are sometimes referred to as priority or essential standards and are the standards deemed critical to master.
Why do Power Standards Matter?
Power standards are important because as it stands, many teachers face a barrage of standards that can realistically not be learned to mastery in a year. A teacher may touch on all of the standards, but power standards are assessed for mastery.
By reducing the number of standards down to only the essential, teachers have more time for deeper teaching and also re-teaching. As a high school ELA teacher, I had 40+ state standards to assess for mastery. In my opinion, many of the standards were “nice-to-know” but not “need-to-know.” By prioritizing our state standards, we (as a department) were able to help our students focus on mastering the essentials, which has helped the grade-to-grade transition. Our freshmen teachers can show the sophomore teachers which students gained mastery in our prioritized areas, for example.
How can you select power standards?
To choose priority/power standards, you can work with your department or grade-level team. In my experience, my ELA department took our state’s recommended priority standards and reviewed their selections to make sure that their choices would meet the needs of our students. Our state had chosen 16 ELA standards per grade-level band, and we decided to use the standards that they had idenfitied — they worked for our school population, fortunately!
Marzano has specific steps for selecting priority standards, but basically (in my experience), the power standards are the most essential, need-to-know skills that students should master at each grade level.
For example, in high school English consider the following “Reading Literature” standards:
- RL1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text stays explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
- RL7 Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem, evaluating how each version interprets the source text.
In the past, we would be expected to teach each skill to mastery — which would include developing formative and summative assessments to assess these two standards. The first standard (RL1), in my opinion, is much more essential and “need-to-know” than the second standard, which is a “nice-to-know.” I would definitely still cover RL7 — comparing The Great Gatsby to Leonardo’s movie version OR comparing the play The Crucible’s text, play, and movie versions — but this standard is not something I would assess to mastery.
RL1, however, is a skill that I would build formative and summative assessments around. And, on a side note, RL1 might be selected as a power standard every year in the ELA classroom — but remember that it spirals up with grade-appropriate readings. So, even if it is a repeated power standard, the text complexity will increase — at least that’s how I approach it!
How can you select and use power standards in your department, grade-level, or team?
As a department, you can work together to select power standards from your state or common core standards list. When we picked the priority standards at my school, we first met as a department, read information on power standards, reviewed Marzano’s suggestions for evaluating standards and implementing a guaranteed and viable curriculum, and came up with an overall game plan to guide us as we broke off into grade-level teams.
Once in our grade-level teams, we narrowed the standards down to the 16 “must-know” standards for our grade levels, and we brought those back and shared them with our departments. We revised our curriculum guides to match our selections.
Then, in grade-level teams, we tweaked our common assessments to more closely match our chosen power standards. We realized that many of our assessment questions were testing content, and not skills. Our team was testing over certain stories and had specific questions about literary eras, for example. Instead, we tried to make the common assessments exclusively skill-based, so that we could give the same test regardless of the pieces we used. Our content choices became the vehicles we used to get students to mastery of our power standards.
After, we chose our prioritized standards and revised our common assessments, we used (and still use) PLC time to continually review our students’ progress towards mastery.
How can you use power standards in your classroom?
In my classroom, I made a poster for each of the 16 power standards my grade-level team chose, and I interchange the posters depending on what priority standard we are focusing on. I continually reference those posters, point out words from the standard, and ask students to assess themselves using a self-eval Google Form.
My grade-level team also divided the 16 power standards into four quarters, so that we can dive in even deeper each quarter to really guide students towards mastery. When I think about having 4 focus standards each quarter, I nod my head and think, “hey, I can cover and assess FOUR standards!”
I have to remember, though, that the other standards are not completely thrown out the window. Instead, as mentioned above, the non-prioritized standards can serve as the vehicle to get students to mastery. So, for example, if I am showing The Great Gatsby and comparing it to the book, I could use that activity as a vehicle to practice citing evidence, making inferences, making arguments, etc.
How can you assess power standards?
Well, this depends so much on the standard! I’ve had students pick an assessment from a “menu” of choices, I’ve given a matching test on vocabulary both found in the standard and on vocabulary essential for accessing the standard, I’ve done multiple choice, traditional essay writing, a Socratic seminar, an email…really, the opportunities are endless. My approach is to TRY to find a balance of rigorous yet engaging options to show mastery.
Some students may need several attempts to really demonstrate that they know a standard well and have actually mastered it. You can use a spreadsheet or your gradebook to keep track of student progress and growth.
How can you involve students with power standards?
Involving students with the prioritized standards has been a huge shift with my teaching, and so far, I have loved it. My goal is for my high school students to really internalize the standards and understand the goal of our learning. So many students question: “why do I need this,” and by involving them in the process, it has helped reduce (but not eliminate) this question and the pushback I receive from many students.
I have students complete a Google Form on the first day of the quarter to get a sense of where they see themselves in relation to the standards. Then, we re-assess at the end of the quarter to determine growth. The standards are constantly posted — so I may have students read the standards out loud or play a fun Kahoot with the vocabulary words.
Overall, prioritized or power standards are gaining traction in the educational community and districts around the country — keep your eye out for this educational buzzword!
If you have any thoughts on power standards (how you use them in your district, classroom, etc.), comment below! I’d love to hear tips from you!