STAR Online


The Research Behind Powerful Teaching and Learning

Note: This section synthesizes content and is drawn directly from The Implementation of Alternative Assessment Procedures and Washington State Reform (1998). Doctoral Dissertation, Seattle Pacific University, Dr. Duane B. Baker

The traditional model of teaching and learning in the public schools is not adequate to prepare students for life in the 21st Century. This realization is the major catalyst for educational reforms we see today. Since the late 1980s, the American education system has been based on an approach that focuses on essential skills and knowledge. Standards are the fundamental abilities and understandings identified as necessary for successful adult citizens, and throughout the 1990s, standards became the basis for many school reform efforts. In 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law No Child Left Behind, mandating that all students be proficient in standards, and that proficiency be measured annually with standards-based assessments (U.S. Department of Education, 2002).

Annual assessments are not new. Before Standards, student achievement scores were distributed in a bell-shaped curve, with the 50th percentile being the acceptable standard. As our economy became more globalized, workers needed more skills and knowledge to remain competitive in the job market; the 50th percentile was no longer acceptable. Therefore, educational reform efforts moved away from academic proficiency being measured by norms (normal bell curve) to criteria standards that all students are expected to meet. Therefore, reform efforts demand that 100% of students be proficient, regardless of differences in ability or opportunity. For educators, this means the focus has to be on “student learning.” For all students to learn we cannot rely solely on curriculum and assessment alignment: Instruction must also be aligned with how students learn. In our new reform context, cognitive science and learning theory provide a foundation to maximize student learning.

Our work originates from primary research examining effective teaching and learning, generated over the last 15 years of standards-based, criterion-referenced, educational reform. A single variable, originally called the Constructivist Teaching Variable, correlated with student achievement and was the only variable that mitigated the effects of poverty (Abbott and Fouts, 2003). This powerful realization propelled development of the variable into a construct we call Powerful Teaching and Learning. When classroom practice manifested this construct, standardized test scores were higher, regardless of poverty (Baker, Gratama, Peterson, Thompson, 2010).

For more, visit The Research page on