How will Ms. Begay know she is teaching her students everything they need to learn this year?
Page 4: Benchmarks
Remember that content standards include instructional goals that are anchored two to three years in the future. Described as the “subcomponents” of content standards, benchmarks identify the expected understandings and skills needed for content standards by grade level and are tracked according to predetermined time intervals. For example, a fourth-grade benchmark within the mathematics content standard of “Number Sense” might be that students will be able to multiply and divide whole numbers from 0 to 200. A benchmark that might be even more defined is one that specifies what the student will do within “Number Sense” by the end of the first marking period or at the end of a unit on measurement.
Teachers use benchmarks as targets for their instruction and to monitor student progress so they can adjust instruction as needed. Benchmarks allow teachers to reflect on students’ strengths and needs. Teachers use several forms of assessment to gather evidence of student performance rather than relying on assumptions of what teachers think students know.
Example: Here is a benchmark developed across the K–4 grade span by the New Mexico Public Education Department’s Curriculum, Instruction and Learning Technologies: Understand patterns, relations, and functions.
Teachers alert students to benchmarks. Students learn what they are expected to learn by a certain point in time, which in turn allows the students to see the relationship between their effort and progress. In doing so, learners might develop a greater sense of responsibility.
Example: A fourth-grade teacher from New Mexico might transfer the mathematics benchmark information for her students by explaining that the students will be learning: 1) how to use symbols or letters to stand for any number in mathematical equations; and 2) how to analyze patterns depicted in tables and graphs.
More specific than content standards, benchmarks are frequently linked to grade levels or grading periods.
Used to determine whether progress is being made in relation to a given content standard, benchmarks can be implemented as instructional units or blocks of instruction that are taught during a grading period or semester.
Imagine that you want to take a trip across New Mexico. You have five days to drive from Las Cruces, New Mexico, to Gallup, New Mexico. Get out your map and develop a plan based on the following questions:
- How many hours will you drive each of the five days?
- Where will you stay every night?
- Which highways will you take?
- What do you have to consider?
Each day you must monitor your progress across New Mexico, which is now broken into manageable pieces.
Much as one might travel across New Mexico, educators need to break learning into manageable pieces (benchmarks), defining the expected student performances that are relative to specific content standards.