The paper will describe current research on ways in which policy makers, curriculum writers, teachers and students make sense of academic standards. The use of standards as policy levers for the achievement of alignment has become an integral part of what Gee et al (1996) describe as 'new capitalism .The drive for standards-led reform coming from business and industry has spawned a standards industry in its own right. In the enthusiasm for reform there is a tendency to view the standards as absolute, unproblematic. The intent of this study is not to challenge the importance of standards in the reform process but to highlight their complexity and problematic nature. Education standards are socially constructed and as such are value-laden, internal to the user and contestable. Piloting by the WA Secondary Education Authority of a new approach to course design, using outcomes as symbols for the construction of a community of assessment practice, affords an opportunity to increase understanding of the nature of academic standards. This innovation is a response to the new context of post-compulsory education: the move to a K-12 curriculum framework based on outcomes, increased alignment of schools and the workplace, and a strong push for citizenship education.