What Are Behavioral Objectives? Part 4 of 5: Setting Measurement Standards

This is the fourth article in a five part series about Behavioral Objectives. The articles in order of publication are:

  1. Behavioral Objectives; An Overview
  2. The Scope and Sequence Chart
  3. Gantt Charts for Progress Planning
  4. Setting Standards of Achievement or Fluency
  5. Why This Component Works

Types of Standards

There are lots of ways to set objectives and lots of ways to measure whether or not they are being met. Many people in many disciplines use percentages as a measure, but they can be influenced by high and low frequencies of the behaviour or opportunities to produce the behaviour. Eighty percent of 10 events is not the same thing as eighty percent of 100 opportunities. 8/10 is different than 80/100 because 80/100 requires a lot more behavior. The number of strokes required to win a Master’s green jacket is a different measure than the measure for the 100 meter 4 person Olympic relay. There is one universal measure available, frequency, which measures behaviour over time. Ice age apparently occur once every 15,000 years. A hummingbird’s wings move at 2000 beats per minute. Humans speak at approximately 200 words per minute.


Frequency over a specified period of time is a stable measure for many behaviors. Frequency over time produces a measure of the rate at which the behaviour is occurring. Medicine uses several common frequency measures routinely to track heart rate, respiration and other bodily functions. We breathe at the same rate and within a range of rates depending on the activity. Our heart rate changes according to the activity and within a fairly clearly specified range. There is a known range of frequency for eliminating bodily waste. When the ranges for these behaviours are exceeded in either direction, restorative measures are taken. As with medicine, many of these measures can be applied to academic skills

Changes in the rate provide important clues as to when some aspect of a behaviour needs to change, (e.g. the student’s scores on the reading of a passage reach or surpass 200 words per minute with fewer than 2 errors for 3 consecutive attempts). Lack of change in the rate provides equally important information about reaching an objective (e.g. The student’s reading of a passage shows the same scores for 3 days).

Many of these frequencies and the ranges in which they operate have been researched and reported in a multitude of journal articles, books, research reviews and theses.

Here are a few examples of what we know about frequencies of specific academic behaviours in core curricula:

  • See/Say Sounds & Sound Combinations – 50 – 60 sounds/minute/ 0-2 errors
  • See/Say Words in lists – 80 – 100 words/minute/ 0-2 errors
  • See/Say words in sentences – 200 words/minute/ 0-2 errors
  • See/Write Single digit math facts – 60-80 /minute/0-2 errors
  • Hear/Write words (dictation, lecture etc.) – 20-30 words/minute/ 0-2 errors
  • Think/Write ideas from text – 20-30 words/ minute/ 0-2 errors

Measuring objectives by using frequency makes the process

  • simple
  • straightforward
  • easy to understand
  • easy to communicate
  • provides information on quality (corrects & errors)
  • provides information on pace (count per minute)
  • allows comparison with peer data on the same task
  • allows rough estimates of number of attempts needed to reach the objective
  • gets rid of cumbersome psychological test measures (e.g. stanines, means, standard deviations, percentiles etc.), which most parents and many teachers do not clearly understand.

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