This paper puts forward a proposal for reviewing the role and purpose of standards in the context of national curriculum and assessment reform more generally. It seeks to commence the much-needed conversation about standards in the work of teachers as distinct from large-scale testing companies and the policy personnel responsible for reporting. Four key conditions that relate to the effective use of standards to measure improvement and support learning are analysed: clarity about purpose and function; understanding of the representation of standards; moderation practice; and the assessment community. The Queensland experience of the use of standards, teacher judgement and moderation is offered to identify what is educationally preferable in terms of their use and their relationships to curriculum, improvement and accountability. The article illustrates how these practices have recently been challenged by emerging political constraints related to the Australian Government’s implementation of national testing and national partnership funding arrangements tied to the performance of students at or below minimum standards.