State standards, also called “state academic standards,” are learning goals for K-12 students in a state’s public schools. They typically identify what students should know and be able to do by the end of each grade, in each of the major academic subjects. Under federal law, states must adopt such standards for reading, math, and science. Many states also have standards for other subjects, such as social studies.
The goal of state standards is to create consistency in expectations across classrooms and schools. This ensures that all students—regardless of geography, socioeconomic status, gender, or ethnic background—have access to the same rigorous content. Such standards generally serve as the basis for statewide standardized tests, including those required by federal law in most grades. But state standards are not the same as curricula, and schools employ different curricula to teach the same standards.
A well-known (if sometimes controversial) example of such standards was originally named the Common Core State Standards (2010). Covering English Language Arts and mathematics in every grade from kindergarten through twelfth, these standards were created by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Adoption of the Common Core by states was voluntary but for a time was incentivized by the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top initiative. Many states adopted them. In the years since, many of those states have revised, replaced or renamed them.
For twenty-five years, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has been reviewing the quality of state standards. Based on our analyses, excellent standards tend to be specific, measurable, well-written, and ambitious in terms of what students should know and be able to do. Weak standards—which, unfortunately, Fordham’s reviewers have found in many states—are typically so vague as to be unhelpful to teachers, parents, curriculum designers, test developers, and others.
- Fordham President Mike Petrilli debates Jay Greene on national learning standards
- Animated video on the Common Core
- Which classroom materials are aligned to learning standards
- Our review of state standards in civics and social studies
- The Common Core explained
- Instructional tools for teaching Common Core standards
- Learning standards and project-based learning “go hand in hand”