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The movement began with the publication of A Nation At Risk by the National Commission on Excellence in Education. This acted like a wake up call, leading to the Goals 2000 program of the early 1990's. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics was the first to publish a set of standards for their content area and science organizations quickly worked to develop their set of expectations.
(For more on the purpose of standards, visit the timeline and information available at: http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/docs/purpose.asp)
And 'expectations' is a good synonym for 'standards'. By clarifying what is expected and developing a common set of expectations, each academic area can also raise expectations. Creating standards allows improved academic achievement: everyone knows what is to be taught and what acceptable performance should look like.
Each academic area has its own set of standards at the national level. In turn, the national standards are reflected in the wording of state standards. Every state (except Iowa) has adopted standards in most content areas.
(Check out http://edstandards.org/Standards.html for links to annotated websites for individual states)
For science standards, everything seems to be structured around the wording of the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards. Use the McREL website to explore the content standards for Science. Click on each standard for more detail and even some suggested lesson activities.
Visit the MarcoPolo website for high quality, standards-based resources such as teacher lesson plans, student activities and lists of web resources. http://www.marcopolo-education.org/home.aspx [MarcoPolo also has a partnership with the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) through their "Science NetLinks"]
The International Reading Association and NCTE have also formed a website with standards based information and activities: http://www.readwritethink.org/ Learn more about standards or search for lesson plans by grade-level groups or by teaching strategies; including read alouds, comprehension, word study, guided reading, and others.