Standards and Curriculum and Instruction – Oh My! Part 1: Standards

Standards and Curriculum and Instruction – Oh My!
Part 1: Standards

DISCLAIMER: This blog is the first in a series designed to educate and inform readers on the differences between standards, curriculum, and instruction. These blogs are not an endorsement of Common Core State Standards.

– Dr. Jerry Burkett and Dr. Cathy Moak

What are Standards?

We all have standards. There are personal standards, moral standards, national and community standards, standards of living, standard measurement, even military and gold standards. All of these standards establish a baseline within the respective area that we as a society collectively accept.

Simply put:

  • A mile will be 5,280 feet no matter where you drive.
  • A dollar is accepted all over the United States.
  • Running water and indoor plumbing are requirements.

While our personal standards may be different, (i.e. Lexus vs. Toyota, Motel 6 vs. Omni Hotels, McDonald’s vs. In ‘n Out Burger) our community standards are mutually agreed upon through a social contract. This includes our educational standards.

What are the TEKS?

By the year 2000 every state had some form of education standards in place for their public schools. Education standards are the learning goals for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level in each subject. These standards help educators ensure students have the knowledge and skills they need to be successful. Each state decides differently on which standards they would adopt for their public schools. And, it is important to note that each state still has the right to make these decisions.

In Texas, the education standards are referred to as the TEKS or Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. The TEKS were developed and implemented September 1998 in response to the growing technology needs of the state. The TEKS was originally “mandated only for foundation subjects such as math, English language arts, science, and social studies. Since September 2003, TEKS-compatible instruction is now required in both Foundation and Enrichment subject areas”.

The TEKS were written and reviewed by teachers, professors, administrators, community members, businesses, and approved by the State Board of Education. They are regularly reviewed and revised to meet the growing demands of student learning in the state of Texas.

All textbooks, curriculum, lesson plans, and classroom instructional techniques found in classrooms in the state of Texas are based on the TEKS. These are some of the tools that classroom teachers use to process the complicated and bland TEKS into rigorous instruction.

First, lets talk about education standards.

What is Common Core?

In 2009 several (48) states got together to develop the Common Core State Standards. Please note that this was not initiated by the federal government, but by governors and state commissioners of education of their own volition. The United States Constitution does not establish a national standard or authority for education, rather leaving the institution up to each state to create and manage. This includes funding, standards, certification, and management.

Source: Closing the Expectations Gap 2013 annual Report on the Alignment of State K–12 Policies and Practice with the Demands of College and Careers

The establishment of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2009 is an attempt by members of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and state school chiefs and governors to recognize the value of consistent, real-world learning goals. These groups launched the effort “to ensure all students, regardless of where they live, are graduating high school prepared for college, career, and life.” In short, the CCSS were designed to create standards for proficiency in the United States that defined the expectations for each high school graduate.

The creation process for the CCSS included examining standards that were in use in each state as well as international standards with the purpose of addressing student expectations for elementary school through high school.

Because CCSS were developed with input from standards that were being used by some states in 2009, there is some consistency between some CCSS and the standards in states that did not adopt Common Core. This includes Texas. As such, it would not be uncommon to find similar educational standards between each state.

For example, Texas has a set of kindergarten standards required specifically for students in that grade level while 11 U.S. states have no standards for kindergarten.*

What is the impact of the Common Core Standards on Texas?

The CCSS have no impact in regard to standards in Texas. It is important to understand that the CCSS are just standards — not curriculum, not instruction, and not instructional materials. Texas has its own standards, and our standards (TEKS) cannot be replaced by CCSS without a legislated change. Having said that, you may see other elements ALIGNED with the CCSS in Texas. All of these would likely be instructional materials. Please read the article Is there Common Core in Texas? Yes, but not in the way you might think for more information on why you may see these materials.

Contrary to popular belief, standards are the most transparent element we have in education. They are written and approved by each state through a legislative process. They are available online and in writing at all times. They cannot be changed without state approval. They cannot be adopted without legislative approval.

Here is a table to help you understand each element in education, the accountability associated with the element, the possible impact from CCSS, and the level of transparency.

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 9.38.42 AM

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 9.38.52 AM

Education standards are important – whether they are TEKS, CCSS, or something else. These are the fundamental goals that serve as the building blocks to all other elements of our education system. When you hear that someone is concerned about “Common Core in Texas,” ask them to clarify their concern with the understanding of what standards truly are. It may be that their true concern is about curriculum, instruction, or instructional materials. And these may represent very legitimate concerns. But it is important to understand exactly what standards are – and are not – before we can achieve meaningful dialogue about how these common goals impact curriculum and instruction.

The next post in our series will address curriculum. What is it? How does it differ from standards and instruction? What are common types we see in Texas schools?

*Prior to adoption of the Common Core State Standards which are only written for math and English Language Arts

8 thoughts on “Standards and Curriculum and Instruction – Oh My! Part 1: Standards”

  1. I believe that to have a robust education system we must standardize the system. I agree with the fact that we have a Common Core even when some states are not following it. As the post says, the CCSS includes the examination of national and international Standards so all our districts in the country have the access to those standards that countries ranked at the top in education are currently using. I consider the CCSS as an excellent step to standardize our education. I also agree with the decision that some states have taken not to follow it, but at least the entire country has a reference on what to follow to meet the expectations of each high school graduate.


  2. I too believe in the importance of having education standards. They provide guidance and let both teachers and students know where they should to be at the end of the day. However, alot of educators take these standards to be the end-all, be-all of what students need to learn and can eventually overwhelm themselves. All students are different and learn at different paces, so educators need to make sure that they only use these standards as a guide and are always meeting their students’ needs first.


  3. I do appreciate the establishment of the CCSS as a means of serving as a baseline for what all of our students should know. While I understand that some states have decided not to follow the CCSS, I do like that we have a clear picture of the foundational elements of what our students need to know.


  4. While I have no opinion on the content of the CCSS (I’ve yet to read them in detail), I do like the concept of having common standards throughout the U.S. I think this becomes incredibly helpful for students who move from state to state, especially as our society becomes more and more mobile. I remember having friends when I was in school who moved to Texas from another state and their frustration when so many of their previous high school credits did not transfer. I think the CCSS is a great way to ensure that students are learning at the same levels throughout the U.S.
    I do agree with Jorge stating that educators sometimes get too caught up in the standards. In Texas, we have a large number of TEKS to teach and it is easy for teachers to focus too much on all of them, rather than focusing in on the most essential TEKS.


  5. Standards are an important method of alignment in learning because they set precedent for the higher level teaching that should be happening in the classroom. The implementation of Common Core State Standards provide a guideline to ensure that states are all following the same curriculum. Although, there are still a few states that are not following CCSS, most still have something that they use as a platform like the TEKS for Texas. I understand your point Patricia, sometimes not being completely aligned across states may cause some difficulties


  6. I like what the article said about the states that did not adopt the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were still very comparable as far as where they stood in other areas. I think that Texas having standards for Kindergarten are needed and great, but do not trump the fact that our standards overall do not necessarily align with those across the country.

    One thing I do not necessarily understand is why so few states chose to not adopt the CCS standards.


  7. The implementation of Common Core State Standards are a measurement guideline for states that are to follow this curriculum. For us this struck me as interesting “The CCSS have no impact in regard to standards in Texas. It is important to understand that the CCSS are just standards — not curriculum, not instruction, and not instructional materials. Texas has its own standards, and our standards (TEKS) cannot be replaced by CCSS without a legislated change”. Guidelines, standards, measurements, benchmarks, indicators, domains, whatever. We will always align with some form of standards in order to make informed decisions using data. In the end it is student outcomes that will drive the conversation around standards and practices. What is best for the child might not be a whole state or country decision. It may be a campus based personalized approach.


  8. The article speaks on how the standards are the most transparent element we have in education. This is true because it seems that discord and disagreement in education comes from all of the other stuff that coincides with education. The standards, no matter if its common core or the TEKS, are instrumental in how we instruct our students. I can appreciate that the CCSS have created a guideline and standard as to what should be taught. If not, then many teachers would feel their way through and teacher what they deem important which, in turn, could be detrimental to student success.


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