FocusEducators and publishers often use the terms “standards,” “curriculum” and/or “instructional materials” interchangeably. Moreover, many educators consider their instructional materials to be their curriculum. However, each of these terms represents a distinct component of an educational program. In the sections that follow, we provide explanations of each of these terms to differentiate their meanings in the context of PreK-12 education.

Standards set out what students are expected to know and be able to do at the end of each school year. Standards are generally established at the state level. In fact, ESSA requires that each state create learning standards for public schools in three subjects—English language arts/reading, mathematics, and science—and many states go beyond ESSA’s minimum to set standards in social studies, career and technical education, languages other than English, and other subjects.

In contrast, the curriculum is developed at the district level, the product of local policy making. While the standards tell you what is expected, the curriculum provides the road map to get there. Often described in documents such as “scope and sequence” and “units of instruction,” a curriculum includes goals, instructional practices and pedagogical guidance, suggested resources and instructional materials, and methods of measuring student progress. [Read more…]

Instructional materials are publisher-created products designed to support and enhance a district’s curriculum. It is easy to see why the terms “instructional materials” and “curriculum” are used interchangeably: many instructional materials provide units of study, daily lesson plans, and assessments; and, many teachers rely so heavily on their instructional materials that the materials become the de facto curriculum. However, publishers design instructional materials to support educators across districts, even states. Thus, the units of study or pacing guide contained in an instructional material may not be consistent with the district’s curriculum and may not be well aligned to the applicable state’s standards. For these reasons, instructional materials should be used to help teachers implement the district’s curriculum and facilitate day-to-day instruction rather than as a curriculum.

Working in concert, the district’s curriculum and instructional materials help to ensure that students receive the instruction needed to master state standards and progress academically.