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Jargon-busting with Jim
by Jim Bickal
February 2000
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One of the most frequent complaints about the standards is that they are complicated and difficult to understand. Many people get lost in the educational jargon that is used to describe them.

It happens all the time in schools nowadays. A teacher is discussing how she grades an assignment using plain English, then she says...
Teacher: I had heard that the state was going to provide "exemplars."
"Exemplars?" Who uses words like that? Well, professional educators, that's who. They say exemplar is a more precise term than the word most people would use: example. In this case exemplar means an example of what what a student project should look like to get a specific grade.

That's just one example of the kind of jargon that can stymie an outsider trying to understand the educational policies in our state. Karen Klein is an insider who has volunteered to guide us through the jargon. She is a graduation standards specialist with the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale school district.

Let's start with that word that we keep hearing, it's even in her title: standard. She says it comes from a national movement.
Klein: The standard-based movement has to do with, okay, this kid has learned something, now can she or he apply in real-life settings and real situations.
Okay, apply what you know. Simple enough. But in Minnesota it gets a little more complicated. Here, standards are divided into two parts. The basic standards ...
Klein: A basic standard would be lets make sure that the kids have certain skills and competencies that are survival.
The basic standards are measured by the reading, math and writing tests that students begin taking in eighth grade. This year's seniors are the first class that has to pass the basic standards tests to graduate.

The other half of the program is the more complicated "high standards."
Klein: When I think of high standards, I'm thinking of, let's challenge the kids to reach for something that they might not reach for if allowed to just be kind of on their own or do their own thing.
The high standards are specific skills and concepts that the state has determined students should learn before they graduate from high school. An example of a high standard is "U.S. Citizenship," which states students must "understand the foundations, rights and responsibilities of United States citizenship."

The high standards are divided into 10 "learning areas."
Klein: A learning area, for example, would be "Read, Listen and View." Another learning area is "Write and Speak." Another learning area is "People and Cultures" which a lot of us see as "Social Studies."
So under the 10 learning areas, you'll find a total of 48 high standards.

This year's sophomores may be the first students required to complete 24 of the high standards in at least nine of the learning areas in order to graduate.

So how does a student complete a standard? By finishing something called a performance package.
Klein: A performance package is a series of activities and performance assessments that show the work of the standard.
In other words, a performance package is a lesson plan that can include projects and tests designed to demonstrate that students understand the skills and concepts spelled out in one of the standards. The state has written performance packages to go with the standards, but districts are free to write their own performance packages if they wish.

Now, that's the high standards which are also known by one of the most infamous pieces of jargon ever created: the Profile of Learning. Karen Klein explains.
Klein: They were trying to find a term that would show that each of us has strengths and weaknesses and when a child completed 12th grade there would be a record showing where that child's strengths and weaknesses were and that it would be kind of a profile.
Imagine a sheet of paper with 10 bar graphs, each one representing a student's final score in one of the 10 learning areas. Taken as a whole, those graphs would be a profile of that student's academic achievement - a Profile of Learning.

So there you have it: Educationese 101. Bear in mind these are only a few examples, exemplars if you will, designed to teach the basic skills of educational jargon decoding.