Announcing Enhancements to the Standards Aligned System (SAS)
The Pennsylvania Standards Aligned System (SAS) is a collaborative product of research and good practice that identifies six distinct elements which, when utilized together, provide schools and districts a common framework for continuous school and district enhancement
and improvement. Much research has been conducted as to what makes a great school. There are many intangible components; however, research supports the notion that great schools and school systems tend to have six common elements that ensure Student Achievement: Clear Standards, Fair Assessments, Curriculum Framework, Instruction, Materials & Resources, and Interventions.
The PA Department of Education (PDE) and the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) are adding the Prekindergarten, Kindergarten, Grade 1, and Grade 2 Early Learning Standards to the SAS website, meaning they are no longer on a separate OCDEL page in SAS! By adding the Early Learning standards as part of the searchable standards, materials and resources are also to be linked directly to each standard. Additionally, this enhancement allows early learning providers and school districts to more easily align curriculum and support smooth transitions between programs.
PDE and OCDEL utilize a Standards Aligned System (SAS) that links the elements of instruction, materials and resources, curriculum framework, fair assessment and safe and supportive schools, and learning standards to children's engagement in learning and their school success.
Learning Standards are the framework for learning. They provide the foundational information for what children should know and be able to do. Pennsylvania's Learning Standards for Early Childhood build on information learned previously and link to content to be learned in higher grades, creating a continuum of learning that assures consistent and linked learning that begins in infancy, gradually getting more complex as it extends through high school.
Pennsylvania also uses program standards that assure children's experiences are being offered in high-quality settings. Keystone STARS, PA Pre-K Counts, school-based pre-kindergarten, Head Start Supplemental Assistance programs all use similar sets of standards that provide guidance on program operation that exhibit best practices.
Teachers must use both informal and formal assessments to understand children's progress. In early childhood, formative assessments that provide information about how children are progressing in the classroom allow teachers to make adaptations or adjustments in the individualized learning plans for every child.
Early childhood professionals observe and assess children within their classroom setting using materials found in the school environment with which children interact on a daily basis. This focus on authentic assessment provides an age appropriate means to understand how and what children are learning within early education settings. Blocks that children count or stack, for example, provide the information teachers need to understand children's math or fine motor skills. Outdoor play or recess allows the adult to observe children's gross motor skills or the social interactions with peers. Teachers must use the information they have documented during observation of authentic experiences, along with information from families, to understand the unique needs, learning styles and interests of individual children and to identify goals and next steps for children's learning.
A curriculum framework reminds us what information should be taught to young children within each of the Key Learning Areas. It assures the continuum of learning that begins at birth and continues through graduation. Pennsylvania's curriculum framework includes big ideas, essential questions, vocabulary, concepts and competencies that further define the learning standards. Pennsylvania's Learning Standards for Early Childhood provide a comprehensive curriculum framework for early childhood educators.
Instruction in the early years often looks different than in the older grades. Learning occurs within the context of play and active learning strategies where children are engaged in concrete and hands-on discovery and in experimentation and interaction with materials, their peers and nurturing adults.
Teachers help construct knowledge during these active learning times by designing activities that build on children's prior knowledge to create new understandings and information. A balance of direct teaching combined with child-initiated play produce optimal conditions for young children's education. Teachers become facilitators or guides of learning who interact with children throughout the school day. They ask open-ended questions that encourage children to think about things in more than one way and they support children's creativity, problem solving, intuition and inventiveness (approaches to learning) by challenging and encouraging them. Teachers design focused instruction that is based on the identified individual needs of every child and assure these experiences encompass their interests, abilities and culture.
Materials and resources within the Standards Aligned System provide multiple sources to enhance and support the integration of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. For early childhood, materials include links to relevant national, state, and research-based organizations, guides and links to activity based learning, and relevant book lists.
School engagement is essential towards building academic success and a positive school climate. Engagement in school is a process of events and opportunities that lead to students gaining the skills and confidence to cope and feel safe in the school environment. These events and opportunities include relationships, respect for diversity and school participation.
School safety refers to the security of the school setting and school-related activities as perceived and experienced by all stakeholders, including families, caregivers, students, school staff, and the community. School safety encompasses both emotional and physical safety, and is influenced by positive and negative behaviors of students and staff as well as the presence of substance use in the school setting and during school-related activities.
School environment refers to the extent to which school settings promote student safety and student health. Environment is inclusive of all aspects of a school - its academic components, its physical and mental health supports and services, its physical building and location within a community, and its disciplinary procedures.
How can SAS support collaborations across the P-3 continuum?
The elements that are defined within SAS, when combined, offer teachers connections with the learning to which children are exposed as they progress through their schooling experience.
- Connects content: SAS demonstrates the emerging skills children experience in the early years and how the concepts increase in complexity as children mature
- Connects teachers: SAS provides teachers a common framework for teaching and learning. This common framework allows teachers to communicate and plan for children's learning more effectively as children progress from classroom to classroom.
- Connects families: Families are an integral part of the learning process. SAS allows families to see where learning expectations come from and how teachers integrate curriculum and assessment to enhance student growth and learning. Families connect with the learning cycle when they understand the importance of the information and support they can provide to teachers.
- Connects schools: SAS is a statewide initiative and provides continuity across programs. Programs that use SAS, while maintaining their local focus, become part of statewide efforts to increase student growth and learning.
SAS can also be a tool used for curriculum alignment. The site provides a platform for:
- Development of common language
- Knowledge and respect of each other's worlds
- A continuum of learning which builds on previous learning and can assist in preparing for next phase of learning
- Shared resources
SAS has a variety of tools to support a smooth transition from pre-K to kindergarten.
- Transition Toolkit: The ideas and information presented in this toolkit have come from a review of national research and a statewide collection of successful transition practices.
- Tip Sheet: Reaching Out to Families: The ideas presented in this document can be used effectively to engage families as children transition to formal schooling.