Understanding Standards

What Alignment Means

During our many conversations with publishers regarding instructional materials we have found that the statement “aligned to standards” means different things to different people. For example, the marketing director of a publishing company recently told us that “aligned to standards” in their marketing material means that their material generally addresses the concepts contained in the standards. In contrast, when we ask educators what they understand when they read that a material is “aligned to standards,” they repeatedly tell us they expect the material to address the content knowledge and skills the standards require students to learn.

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Defining Roles: Standards vs. Curricula vs. Instructional Materials

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…]

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How Learning List Helps Districts Comply with ESSA’s “Evidence Based” Requirement

A recent report from Curriculum Associates discusses the Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) requirement that federal education funds be used for evidence-based programs, interventions, and products. “ESSA and Evidence Claims: A Practical Guide to Understanding What ‘Evidence-Based’ Really Means” provides a primer for educators in understanding the four levels of evidence recognized by ESSA (e.g., moderate evidence), the type of study that exemplifies each level (e.g., quasi-experimental), and the five questions educators should ask when evaluating research-based evidence (e.g., “When was the study conducted?”).

One of five questions for evaluating evidence, in particular, caught Learning List’s attention: “Was the study based on current content and standards?”

ESSA assumes that the evidence base for a product, program, or service is based on the state’s current standards, but it is possible that the research is grounded in prior state standards or another state’s standards, altogether. It is the district’s responsibility to vet information to ensure products purchased with federal funds and the evidence supporting the products’ effectiveness are based on the appropriate standards.

A tall order but Learning List can help.

Learning List’s alignment reports clarify which set of standards a product addresses, such as the Common Core State Standards or the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Our alignment reports evaluate the product’s alignment, determining whether the material fully addresses the content, context, and cognitive demand of each of the relevant standards. Thus, Learning List’s alignment reports provide strong evidence about whether a product is grounded in the relevant standards. [Read more…]

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The Three Cs of Alignment

One of the topics we are often asked to present at conferences is how to align a material to state standards. Before you begin the hard work of aligning materials, you must ensure that teachers understand the knowledge and skills each Student Expectation requires students to learn.

Each Student Expectation contains three parts, which we call the “Three Cs of the Standard”: the content, context and cognitive demand.

  • The Content of the Expectation states what students are required to learn. The content is typically the noun(s) of the Student Expectation.Three Cs
  • The Context of the Expectation is where/when the learning should be taking place.
    • In the Common Core State Standards, the context may be articulated in the Expectation itself, or the Cluster or Domain may articulate the context for the Expectation.
    • In the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the context may be articulated in the Student Expectation or in the Knowledge and Skills Statement.
    • In ELA, for example, the context of an Expectation is a particular genre. In social studies, the context for an Expectation is often the time period or type of history (e.g., US history, World history, Texas history, etc.). For science, the context is where the learning should be taking place (e.g., in the laboratory, in field investigations, on the Earth’s surface).
  • The Cognitive Demand is what the Expectation requires students to be able to do. The cognitive demand is typically the verb(s) of the Student Expectation.

To determine whether a citation (i.e., a page, unit, lesson) in the material is aligned to a Student Expectation, you have to make sure that the citation addresses all three Cs of the Student Expectation. This may be more difficult than it sounds, because Student Expectations are often both compound and complex sentences. Thus, an Expectation typically contains several nouns and several verbs.

If a single citation does not address all of the nouns and verbs contained in an Expectation, teachers must be aware of the citation’s deficit or else their students may not learn all of the knowledge and skills the Expectation requires. Teachers can adjust their instruction to make up for the material’s deficit or assign multiple citations that align to different portions of the Expectation to ensure that students are exposed the entire Expectation.


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New Review: Exemplars’ Problem Solving for the 21st Century: Built for the Common Core

[Source: Exemplars]

[Source: Exemplars]

Learning List has reviewed Exemplars’ Problem Solving for the 21st Century: Built for the Common Core, which is a supplemental, online resource that supports instruction in the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSSM) for grades K-5. Resources are available online and include printable components.  Content is made up of a set of “learning tasks” and a summative, performance-based assessment for each standard addressed by instruction.

For each CCSSM that may be evaluated through problem solving, Exemplars presents four or more learning tasks that present a problem for students to solve. Tasks provide opportunities for direct instruction in problem-solving strategies, vocabulary development, creating models, and representing mathematical reasoning. Learning tasks are appropriate for whole group and small group instruction, students working in pairs, and/or individual student work.

Formative and summative evaluation of students’ work is supported by rubrics and anchor papers. Rubrics establish a set of five criteria and four performance levels.  Criteria include Problem Solving, Reasoning and Proof, Communication, Connections, and Representations.  Performance levels are linked to Webb’s DOK levels and include Novice, Apprentice, Practitioner (meets standard; strategic thinking), and Expert (extended thinking). Anchor papers provide samples of student work at each performance level, discuss the different problem solving strategies a student may use for a given problem, and identify possible misconceptions.

About Exemplars*

Founded in 1993, Exemplars began by assisting educators using K-8 mathematics problems and assessments that met NCTM Standards. They added 9-12 mathematics two years later. Due its popularity, They started publishing K-8 science in 1997. Exemplars tasks are designed to meet state, national and Common Core standards. Their materials are used by educators in 50 states and 30 countries.

* The content in this section is provided by or adapted from Exemplars.

Subscribe to Learning List for access to the spec sheet, full editorial review and detailed alignment report for this material.

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Don’t Miss Your Target: How to Use Supplemental Materials Effectively

missing the targetWe often hear districts complain that their supplemental materials are not achieving the desired results. Do you know why?

It could be that teachers haven’t had the professional development necessary to use the materials effectively.

It could be that the materials didn’t have a correlation to help teachers map the material to the scope and sequence.   We have found that some of the supplemental materials subscribing districts ask us to review don’t have a correlation at all or it is very difficult to find.

Learning List has reviewed the alignment of hundreds of the most widely used supplemental materials. Based on our alignment reports, we would conjecture that the most likely reason teachers are not getting the desired results from their supplemental materials is because (1) the material did not address the standards teachers are using it to teach, or (2) the material is not completely aligned to the standards teachers are using it to teach.

Bottom line: students won’t learn what they’re not taught.  If you’re going to use a supplemental material to help students learn a select group of standards, make certain of these three things:

(1) the material has a correlation to your state’s standards; april blog 2

(2) the material is aligned to the particular standards you’re  using it to teach; and

(3) that the citations you’re going to assign in that material (e.g., pgs., lessons, videos) are aligned to the standards you’re trying to help students learn.

Using supplemental materials to try to teach standards that the material is not aligned to is like trying to hit a bull’s eye wearing a blindfold.  The consequences are predictable.

Subscribe to Learning List for access to full editorial reviews, alignment reports and spec sheets for hundreds of supplemental materials.

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October 2021