Despite their name, the Zekelman Standards for Judaic Studies are anything but the norm. After piloting in select schools during the 2010 and 2011 academic years, the pioneering project is now being made available for the first time to the greater Jewish school network.

Learning standards are concise, clearly articulated descriptions of what students should know and be able to do at a specific stage of their educational journey.

To varying degrees, educators in the secular educational community have been using standards to guide lesson designs and instruction for years. But this necessary component of any curriculum has never been created as a high quality product for Judaic subjects. Until now.

Generously sponsored by Michigan philanthropists Mr. Alan and Lori Zekelman, the project was developed by the Menachem Education Foundation as a critical tool for raising the bar in Jewish education.

An expert team of educators from across the Yeshiva school spectrum developed the standards – currently available in the subjects of Chumash and Gemara – to be of the same rigor as their secular equivalents, ensuring professionalism and excellence in Jewish education.

“Standards are key to any learning community,” explains Rabbi Yossi Rosenblum, director of the project.

“Teachers need the clarity of knowing what they are teaching towards and the recognition of learning benchmarks marking each student’s progress. Without distinct goals, lessons can become a blur of material to be covered instead of what they should be: teaching the skills needed for students to become self-sustained learners.”

Rabbi Zalman Shneur, executive director of the Menachem Foundation, describes the urgent need for the initiative.

“The minimal standards in Judaic studies in our schools is just not going to cut it anymore. How can a school lack a clear idea of what a fifth grade student is supposed to know by the end of fifth grade? With standards all the stakeholders of a learning community: principals, teachers, parents and students are all on the same page, knowing where they are holding and where they are trying to be. The only amazing thing to me is that across-the-board standards don’t exist in their entirety yet!”

Simply ensuring standards are taught by teachers is only the first step—the next step is to make sure they are being learned by students. The Menachem Education Foundation addresses this with an advanced assessment method known as Data Driven Instruction that routinely monitors and addresses student’s learning.

The Zekelman Chumash standards in grades 1-4, and the Zekelman Talmud standards in grades 5-8, which were jointly developed with the Gemara Berura organization, are currently being implemented in 21 schools nationwide.