Standards-Based Curriculum and Instructional Planning

As stated in earlier in the previous chapter: The Special Education Teacher incorporates high-leverage and evidence-based practices, specialized instruction, and intensive interventions, to enable students with disabilities access to the general education classroom (curricula).  (Instruction chapter)

Standards Based Curriculum vocabulary

Content standards– refer to the curriculum standards or subject are standards.

Performance standards– identify the skills needed to be successful with the content standards.

Benchmarks– benchmarks identify the expected understandings and skills needed for content standards by grade level and are tracked according to predetermined time intervals. (IRIS, the terms student learning objective, benchmark, grade-level indicator, learning target, performance indicator, and learning standard—to name just a few of the more common terms—may refer to specific types of learning objectives in specific educational contexts.

Educational Standards- according the Common Core “are the learning goals for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. Local communities and educators choose their own curriculm…the Common Core is what students need to know and be able to do, and curriculum is how students will learn it.”

*It is difficult to define these “standards” key terms without overlapping and finding exceptions to the rule.

Learning progressions refers to the purposeful sequencing of teaching and learning expectations across multiple developmental stages, ages, or grade levels. They may be called grade level expectations or grade level-standards.


The next step is to read: The IRIS Center, (2004). Content Standards. Connecting Standard-Based Curriculum to Instructional Planning.

Become familiar with the standards and benchmarks used in the general education curriculum.

Pay particular attention to the information from IRIS Center Module that is a central to the role of the special educator.

Learning objectives from the IRIS Module are:

1. What are the two types of content standards and how do standards differ from benchmarks. What curriculum standards are used in your school? You may need to meet with your Supervising Practitioner to answer this question.

2. Which student learning characteristics should teachers gather before developing instruction? Why is this important? What are the learning characteristics of your case study student? From what sources did you gather that information?

3. Describe the information-processing model of learning. Begin with the IRIS Module page 7 and go beyond with your own research.

4. Adapting instruction is important. What is the difference between adapting and modifying instruction?  What different areas of the learning environment may need to be adapted or modified? How do you adapt/modify instruction for the students you work with?

5. What are some ways teachers monitor student progress in their day to day teaching?

6. Describe the three stages of the instructional cycle. How does this align with the SoE lesson planning template? Download a copy of the lesson plan template.

7.  What is curriculum mapping and yearlong planning and why is it important to the special educator? Does your school use curriculum maps?

8.  Unit planning is used to connect lessons in a coherent system of lesson delivery. What are some of the important aspects of unit planning?

In New Hampshire, the Department of Education (DOE) has adopted the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics. It refers to these standards are NH College and Career Ready Standards (NH CCRS). Other content area curricula can be found at the NH DOE website.  On the NH DOE website, it says; “District schools, public charter schools, and private schools each adopt their own curriculum, not the Department of Education nor the State Board of Education.”

Learning Standards. Authored by: S. Abbott (Ed.). Provided by: Great Schools Partnership. Located at: Project: The Glossary of Education Reform. License: CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

What is a learning standard?

Learning standards are concise, written descriptions of what students are expected to know and be able to do at a specific stage of their education. Learning standards describe educational objectives—i.e., what students should have learned by the end of a course, grade level, or grade span—but they do not describe any particular teaching practice, curriculum, or assessment method (although this is a source of ongoing confusion and debate).

Following the adoption of a variety of federal and state policies—notably the No Child Left Behind Act, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965—all states now use standardized assessments designed to evaluate academic achievement in relation to a set of learning standards. Until the development and widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards for the subjects of English language arts and mathematics, and more recently the Next Generation Science Standards, learning standards in the United States were independently developed by states, usually as part of a collaborative committee process overseen by a state’s department of education that included educators and subject-area specialists, as well as public-commentary periods (although both development and adoption processes varied from state to state). When investigating or reporting on learning standards, it is important to know how they were developed, what knowledge and skills they describe, and how they are actually used in schools.

While learning standards vary in content, purpose, and design from state to state, most standards systems in the United States share a few common attributes:

  • Subject areas: Learning standards are typically organized by subject area—e.g., English language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, health and wellness, etc. Most standards systems use the same general subject-area categories that public schools have been using for decades, although some may be refined to reflect new knowledge or changing educational priorities, such as “science and technology” or “health and wellness.”
  • Learning progressions: In each subject area, standards are typically organized by grade level or grade span—consequently, they may be called grade-level expectations or grade-level standards—and the sequencing of standards across grades or stages of academic progress is called a “learning progression” (although terminology may vary from place to place). Learning progressions map out a specific sequence of knowledge and skills that students are expected to learn as they progress through their education. There are two main characteristics of learning progressions: (1) the standards described at each level are intended to address the specific learning needs and abilities of students at a particular stage of their intellectual, emotional, social, and physical development, and (2) the standards reflect clearly articulated sequences—that is, each grade-level learning expectation builds upon previous expectations while preparing students for more challenging concepts and more sophisticated coursework at the next level. The basic idea is to make sure that students are learning age-appropriate material (knowledge and skills that are neither too advanced nor too rudimentary), and that teachers are sequencing learning effectively or avoiding the inadvertent repetition of material that was taught in earlier grades. For a more detailed discussion, see learning progression.
  • Educational goals: Many sets of learning standards also include overarching, long-term educational goals—i.e., what students should be able to do when they have completed their public-school education. These overarching goals will typically describe the knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits that public schools should be teaching and cultivating in stages throughout a student’s education. For example, they may address critical thinking, logical reasoning, and problem solving; oral and written communication; perseverance and work ethic; digital technology and media; or multicultural literacy (valuing and understanding other perspectives, races, and cultures)—i.e., broadly applicable skills that will help students succeed in adult life.
  • Content: While each set of learning standards is unique, there is often a great deal of commonality from system to system or state to state. For example, while different sets of mathematics standards may use different descriptions, or they may sequence specific learning expectations differently, most mathematics standards describe similar quantitative concepts, principles, and reasoning. That said, in subjects such as history, social studies, or science—which contain an enormous variety of possible concepts, facts, skill sets, and areas of study, not to mention politically and ideologically contentious issues—learning standards will likely reflect greater content-related disparities. In addition, some learning standards are considered to be more precise, exacting, and prescriptive—e.g., they will describe the specific punctuation marks that students should know how to use correctly at a particular grade level—while others are considered to be more general, encompassing, and descriptive—e.g., they will explain more broadly what students should be able to do when writing (articulate concepts clearly, use grammatical conventions correctly, cite sources accurately, etc.).

The following examples, taken from the Common Core State Standards English Language Arts Standards for grades 9–10, can serve to illustrate what learning standards are and how they describe educational expectations:


  • Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).
  • Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.


  • Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  • Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.


  • Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing and speaking.
  • Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
  • Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

Speaking and listening

  • Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  • Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.
  • Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.

In the United States, learning standards could be considered a de facto reform strategy, given that they are a relatively recent historical development, and they are generally intended to improve the effectiveness of schools, the quality and consistency of teaching, and the academic achievement of students (whether or not they accomplish this goal remains a subject of debate).