The Standards: A Series

This is the fourth in a series of posts about learning standards.  We recognize we must go beyond the state standards in order to support teaching and learning to the highest possibilities for our PK-12 students in Texas.  We read in the high level alignment indicators of the Visioning Document Implementation Matrix:

Students learning is based on challenging, meaningful content standards that have been articulated, specified, and described PK-12. Learning standards in all content areas extend beyond the state curriculum including such things as: Ÿ

  • clarification/enhancement of the cognitive demand of the standards Ÿ
  • supports for ensuring that students have access to the full content of the discipline Ÿ
  • identification/clustering of “power” standards to ensure depth over breadth Ÿ
  • communicating linkages across disciplines.

The first post in this series mentioned the importance of awareness and regular access to the state standards in order to ground ourselves in the practice of standards-focused or standards-driven instruction.  The second post in this series described the clarification/enhancement of the cognitive demand of the standards.  The third post in this series clarified the supports needed to ensure that students have access to the full content of the discipline.  This post articulates high-priority (“power”) learning standards to ensure depth over breadth of content.

The High-Priority Learning Standards Concept Paper, Developing High-Priority Learning Standards: Rationale, Theory of Action, and Proposed Design Principleswas compiled to present the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium‘s recommendations related to high-priority learning standards to the State Board of Education and commissioner of education in fall 2014.  This 5-page document connects standards, assessment and instruction in a High-Priority Learning Standards Teaching and Learning Cycle.

On the Texas Association of School Administrators’ Mission: School Transformation website, High-Priority Learning Standards are defined and a process for determining them is shared.  A portion of the content from this website is shared below.

High-Priority Learning Standards: Definition

To prepare students for college, the workforce, and success in life, high-priority learning standards should be specified with the recognition that content, thinking, and skills go together so that students can apply their learning to new situations, to synthesize, solve problems, and create knowledge.

High-priority learning standards should be:

  • Reflective of current research in the area of college and career readiness (ACT, SAT, AP, IB, etc.)
  • Reflective of national and international standards
  • Inclusive of the essential core knowledge and processes of each discipline
  • Clear and rigorous
  • Manageable in number

 High-Priority Learning Standards: Process

The Texas High Performance Schools Consortium has designed the following process for determining high-priority learning standards that emphasize depth over breadth and empower students to learn, live, and earn in a global and digital environment and recommended both short- and long-term strategies for developing such standards.

Prioritize and focus on what matters most.
High-priority learning standards are fewer and deeper as opposed to a mile wide and an inch deep.

Content, thinking, and skills all matter when it comes to standards design.
To succeed in today’s workplace, young people need deep knowledge of content and ease with information technology, honed problem-solving skills and the ability to adapt and change as well as personal skills to work in a very diverse and multicultural environment in addition to the ability to collaborate.

Align standards with best evidence on college and career readiness.
Our students need to think critically, solve problems, innovate, collaborate, and communicate more effectively.

Recognize that standards design influences assessment design, assessment design influences instruction, and instructional decisions determine the level and type of learning opportunities provided to students.
Educators must be deliberate about the number of standards they assess. Standards-based assessments should help teachers make good decisions about their instruction and promote the design of learning opportunities that drive students to deeper learning and mastery.


High-priority learning standards provide a clear and coherent description of the content, depth of knowledge, and skills students are expected to master to be prepared for success in college and careers. Critical questions in the development or refinement of college/career-ready learning standards at any policy level—national, state, local—include:

  • What specific knowledge should students know as a result of mastering the learning standards? (Content)
  • What level of cognitive demand, or academic rigor, is appropriate to the content and grade level of the learner? (Thinking)
  • With what transferable skills will students leave high school upon graduation, and at each grade level leading up to graduation? (Skills)

At the local level, districts across the state of Texas are working to prioritize learning standards at the programmatic level (K-12), then aligning these ideas to the individual course level to support further streamlined development of curricular resources.  As a result, classroom educators are supported to focus instructional design and assessment on a fewer number of critical concepts in order to equip students with transferable skills for the next grade level within school and their future beyond school.


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