Academic standards

Academic standards are the benchmarks of quality and excellence in education such as the rigour of curricula and the difficulty of examinations.[1] The creation of universal academic standards requires agreement on rubrics, criteria or other systems of coding academic achievement.[2] At colleges and universities, faculty are under increasing pressure from administrators to award students good marks and grades without regard for those students' actual abilities, both to keep those students in school paying tuition and to boost the schools' graduation rates. Students often use course evaluations to criticize any instructor who they feel has been making the course too difficult, even if an objective evaluation would show that the course has been too easy.[3][4][5] It is very difficult to find a direct correlation between the quality of the course and the outcome of the course evaluations.[6]


Student evaluations are a controversial method of assessing academic achievement. Recent studies have correlated high student evaluation of instructors with high grades rather than mastery of content.[7] Studies have also noted that students' understanding of assessment criteria can lead to enhanced learning experiences.[8]

Globalization and academic standards

According to a 2009 report by UNESCO, changes in the university structure in the late 20th and early 21st century have led to increasing access to or "massification" of higher education which has, in turn, resulted in both a diversification of the student population but also a general decrease in academic standards globally.[9]


In the UK, degree awarding bodies themselves are responsible for standards in higher education, but these are checked during inspection by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) and the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual). On its website QAA defines academic standards as 'The standards set and maintained by institutions for their courses (programmes and modules) and expected for their awards.'[10]

The Dearing Report recommended in 1997 that benchmarking be used to measure and improve academic standards.[11] From 1997 to 2011 this was done by code of practice and other guidelines known as the Academic Infrastructure. During 2012-13, this was replaced by the Quality Code for Higher Education, which included points about the availability of information about the learning experience to emphasize the role of the student as a paying customer of the institutions.[12]


In the USA, regulation is at state level by bodies such as the Standards and Assessment Division of the Arizona Department of Education.[13]

Types of academic standards

The Common Core is a group of academic standards which focus on two main subjects: mathematics and English language arts (ELA). These standards are intended to ensure mastery of information and prepare students for entry into the next grade and beyond. The core originated as a way to standardize the way students were taught from state-to-state, and also to quality of information students received. The Common Core has now been adopted by 42 states in the US.

The Common Core standards are:

  • Research- and evidence-based
  • Clear, understandable, and consistent
  • Aligned with college and career expectations
  • Based on rigorous and application of knowledge through higher order thinking skills
  • Built upon the strengths and lessons of current state standards
  • Informed by other top performing countries in order to prepare all students for success in our global economy and society[14]

See also


  1. Philip Adey, Michael Shayer (1994), Really raising standards, ISBN 9780415101455
  2. Sadler, D. Royce (2014). "The futility of attempting to codify academic achievement standards". Higher Education. 67 (3): 273–288. doi:10.1007/s10734-013-9649-1.
  3. Alderman, Geoffrey (10 March 2010). "Why university standards have fallen". Guardian. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
  4. Brandon, Craig (2010). The Five-Year Party: How Colleges Have Given Up on Educating Your Child and What You Can Do About It. BenBella Books. p. 236. ISBN 978-1935251804.
  5. Paton, Graeme (23 October 2014). "Education standards 'in decline' at overcrowded universities". Telegraph. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
  6. Berrett, Dan (May 9, 2017). "The Chronicle of Higher Education".
  7. "Students Don't Always Recognize Good Teaching, Study Finds – The Ticker - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Education". 2017-05-09. Retrieved 2017-05-16.
  8. Sadler. "Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education". Retrieved 2017-05-17.
  9. Altbach, Phillip G., Liz Reisberg, and Laura E. Rumbley, "Trends in Global Higher Education: Tracking an Academic Revolution. A Report Prepared for the UNESCO 2009 World Conference on Higher Education" (France, UNESCO, 2009).
  10. QAA Glossary, Academic standards, archived from the original on 2014-03-12, retrieved 2014-03-12
  11. Mantz Yorke (1999), "Benchmarking Academic Standards in the UK", Tertiary Education and Management, 5 (1): 79–94, doi:10.1023/A:1018753222965
  12. David Palfreyman, Ted Tapper (2014), Reshaping the University, Oxford University Press, pp. 227–228, ISBN 978-0199659821
  13. "The Official Website of the Arizona Department of Education". Retrieved 2017-05-16.
  14. "About the Standards | Common Core State Standards Initiative". Retrieved 2017-05-16.
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