By Jay Collier, The Compass LLC, and Michael Horning, Jr., 3rd Learning

Standards-based education is a framework of expectations — integrating content, skills, and concepts — for children at all grade and academic levels. Many states are developing assessment systems in order to facilitate their students’ mastery of the content and skills defined by their own state standards as well as by the national Common Core State Standards.

Pennsylvania Standards Aligned System

Pennsylvania Standards Aligned System

Standards-based systems allow educators to focus on what is to be taught and to access the online resources, content, and tools they need to help students with varying abilities achieve the success that is possible through effective learning experiences.
Pennsylvania’s Standards Aligned System (SAS) and New York’s (NYL) are standards-based systems that integrate statewide learning standards with instructional resources, assessments, curriculum frameworks, and web-based tools to enhance teacher effectiveness. Both of these systems were developed by 3rd Learning, an education company headquartered in Buffalo, NY. 3rd Learning grew out of the Center for Applied Technologies at the University at Buffalo‘s Graduate School of Education.
In addition to these standards-based tools, the 3rd Learning team also developed collaboration modules to enable P12 teachers, administrators, and school leaders to communicate through online professional learning communities.
Now a subsidiary of Performance Learning Systems — which provides coursework, consulting and training services for K-12 and higher education — 3rd Learning also develops curriculum management systems for International Baccalaureate (IB) Schools ( and develops international projects, such as eKampus, Turkey’s first country-wide, standards-based system governed by the Teachers Academy Foundation in Istanbul.

Standards-based system features

There are several platform features common to both SAS and NYLearns.
All state learning standards — including national Common Core standards — are searchable by standard, grade level, subject area, and keyword (PA/NY). A “Vertical Viewer” option allows educators to see each student’s progression through skills and concepts within the standards across grade levels, which is especially important in designing standards-based curricula.
Standards-based, Peer Reviewed, Instructional Content – 3rd Learning has negotiated rights to republish several thousand instructional resources from content providers including the Library of Congress, the British Library, the Exploratorium, the George Lucas Foundation, and other notable organizations and institutions of higher learning. These republished resources have been aligned specifically to each state’s standards, including:

  • Activities
  • Learning experiences/units
  • Lesson plans
  • Multimedia
  • Teacher resources
  • Web-based practices

Content items are classified and organized with a variety of metadata, including: grade level(s), description, website(s), assessment, author, duration, essential question, additional notes, and related academic standards. Content types (lesson plans, activities, teacher resources) have different attributes or content items within each of the systems.
Online educator tools — In addition to standards-aligned content, these systems contain a suite of tools designed by teachers with educator needs in mind. All tools can be accessed in the classroom, at home, or anywhere with an Internet connection, empowering teachers to support organization, communication, curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
These tools for teachers include:

ePortfolios – A cloud-based electronic “filing cabinet” that stores an unlimited amount of a teacher’s digital files, media, and resources for access anywhere.

Website Builder – A point-and-click application that allows teachers to quickly develop a professional classroom website or blog to share work, content, and other important information with colleagues, parents and students.

Curriculum Matrix – This tool allows local districts to design, develop, and maintain their local curricula within a standards-oriented context.

My ePlanner – This tool provides an online space where educators can organize their daily instruction in conjunction with district or state curricula.

Assessment Creator – The assessment creator allows teachers to search standards and assemble pre-defined questions from existing tests — by content area, grade level, and question type (multiple choice, constructed response, short response, and extended response). The results are presented in versions customized for students and teachers.

My Communities – (PDF) The community provides school-based, district-wide, and public groups with forums, blogs, events, content storage, an activity stream, comments, and item ratings for engagement on best practices, idea generation, and more.

Publish Your Best! – This published application and peer-review process empowers teachers to share their best instructional content and resources such as lesson plans, activities, and other instructional content to identify best practices and strategies and establish instructional leaders within these online communities.

Pennsylvania SAS

In 2008, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education put forth a vision for a large-scale dynamic Standards Aligned System to connect standards, resources, tools, and communities. The Department of Education (PDE) decided to seek a vendor to develop its educator’s portal with a perpetual-license platform. In that way, content would remain available without interruption.
The Department’s Bureau of Teaching of Learning (BTL) contracted with 3rd Learning to customize its software into a system tailored to Pennsylvania standards. 3rd Learning became deeply engaged with the PDE through campus visits, regular status meetings, and the Department’s Quality Review committee to understand its educational approaches and services and translate them into technology that best aligned with teacher needs.
After developing specifications, the system’s first iteration was launched in December of 2009, focusing on delivery of state standards with aligned resources. Content acquired from 3rd party providers — and owned by those organizations — is free, openly available to the public, and aligned to state standards. Focusing on flexibility, the project was designed to be accessed with lower speed internet connections to allow educators, administrators, and the public access the platform from home.

The second phase of the SAS Project added the Curriculum Matrix tool to help districts design, develop, and manage their local curricula within the statewide system. All district-developed curricula are owned by the district, and they can be exported in multiple formats (XML, .xls, .doc) at any time.
The inclusion of exemplar content from the educators in the state has also contributed to the success and deep implementation of the project. Teacher-submitted lesson plans are reviewed by a Quality Review Team (QRT) at the state-level before their inclusion within the system. Teachers can remove their contributions at any time.
Additional phases added professional learning communities and a learning management system for educators, where teachers log in via their commonwealth teacher ID for online professional development and coursework. Currently, the Pennsylvania system has professional learning communities that encompass both statewide participation as well as those organized by grade level, school, department, or district.
Current development includes teacher effectiveness modules — based on Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching rubrics — which tie together standards, curricula, resources, and data-driven instruction. Based on the rubrics, teachers and principals evaluate their work as developing, proficient, and distinguished.
3rd Learning is also working with author and educator Grant Wiggins to develop a model for an optimal SAS model district. This educational reform and leadership project was launched in October with a rigorous application process. From this, nine districts were chosen to follow an in-depth district-wide curriculum, developed by Dr. Wiggins, to include school leaders, administrators, and teachers. To goal of the project is to have true model districts within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
After only 24 months, the SAS portal has over 112,000 registered users (with 1,100 new users joining in an average week), with 18 million page views and 300 learning communities of practice. The content repository now contains over 20,000 lesson plans and activities, all viewable by the public.

New York Learns

NYLearns provides free public access to learning standards, resources, public blogs, and searchable school contact information to all teachers, students and parents across New York State. The advanced curriculum and assessment modules are available through district or school-building-based annual subscriptions via site licenses.

Many of the same content resources, collaboration features, and online tools implemented in Pennsylvania are available to New York educators.
Although the New York Board of Regents has adopted Common Core standards and is a member of the PARCC consortium, it has not yet determined whether national assessment tools will be used in New York State. However, the system has been built to support evolving learning standards no matter where they originate.
As demonstrated by the Pennsylvania SAS and NYLearns, the design and implementation of online standards-based systems can empower educators with the information, resources, tools, and processes necessary for ensuring the cogent development and delivery of standards-based curriculum and instruction.
This case study was funded by the British Columbia Educational Resources Acquisition Consortium.
Updated 12/19/2011 with additional information.