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)

Tables of Contents

  • Key terms in Standards Based Curriculum
  • IRIS Center Module readings and learning objectives
  • What is a Learning Standard?
  • Voices from the field

Key terms in Standards Based Curriculum

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 curriculum…the Common Core is what students need to know and be able to do, and curriculum is how students will learn it.”

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.

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

readThe 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?

* I will post reflections from teacher candidates in the “Voices from the Field” section at the end of the chapter. 

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 standards 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.”

 As a rule of thumb, state standards tend to be more comprehensive than national standards, both in coverage of grade levels and of subjects. The difference reflects the broad responsibility of states in the United States for all aspects of public education; national organizations, in contrast, usually assume responsibility only for a particular subject area or a particular group of students. Either type of standards provides a first step, however, toward transforming the grandest purposes of schooling (like developing the individual or preparing for society) into practical classroom activities. But they provide a first step only. Most statements of standards do not make numerous or detailed suggestions of actual activities or tasks for students, though some might include brief classroom examples—enough to clarify the meaning of a standard, but not enough to plan an actual classroom program for extended periods of time. For these latter purposes, teachers rely on more detailed documents, the ones often called curriculum frameworks and curriculum guides.  (Nicole Arduini-Van Hoose).

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:

*Note these are broad standards, not measurable learning objectives.


  • 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).

voices from the field

Voices from the Field

Student Learning Characteristics

Last year, we worked on Learner Profiles for our students.  I work at the middle school, and our goal was to send that information to the high school with them so teachers could get a snapshot of the student.  The Learner Profile included surveys about personality traits, learning styles, and preferences for rewards/positive reinforcements.  I started at the school last year, so it was very helpful for me to have those to refer to when working with a student. Jessica Warning

Content standards, performance standards and benchmarks

Before the reading this week, I realized I didn’t have a complete understanding of the difference between all three. I also learned this week from the reading that benchmarks not only provide a timeline of when students should learn specific information, but it helps students acknowledge how their work ethic is impacting their ability to reach these goals and tells teachers whether students are successfully learning/understanding taught material, or if they need further support. While I thought that sharing with a student whether they are meeting certain benchmarks would negatively impact their self-confidence or desire to want to learn (especially students with disabilities), I learned that this can actually be helpful and a motivator for some students. It can also help make them more responsible for their learning. Karissa Peltier


Three stages of the instructional cycle

The instructional cycle directly aligns with the lesson planning template. In the lesson plan template, there is a section to write the learning objectives, the standards that align with the lesson objective, and the essential question that the lesson targets. That all relates to the first stage, intended instructional outcomes. In the next stage, the planning stage, the lesson planning template has an area to describe what formative/summative assessments will be done to determine students’ progress toward the lesson objective. The instruction/activities section of the template is also part of the planning stage. For the assessment stage of the instructional cycle, the lesson plan template  has an area to write preassessment data and analysis of the data to help gauge where students are at prior to teaching the lesson. At the bottom of the planning template, there is a portion for reflection at the end titled data analysis, where the teacher candidate can share whether or not the instructional objectives were met based on the assessment data. Anonymous

graphProgress Monitoring

An example might include working aloud with students to complete single digit multiplication problems. If the desired evidence and outcome is one that has students showcasing their ability to complete the task, then as an educator, you might read the problems aloud and guide students to completing each one step by step. This would allow for tangible evidence that students are grasping the concept (or not). This verbal assessment is one that can be completed aloud in a group or 1-on-1 and allows for the educator to gauge progress and guide students in the right direction if they struggle. This also gives effective feedback for educators to tweak and adjust future lessons and instruction to ensure students are getting the most out of them.

Along with this, it is important to keep in mind that as an educator there is a responsibility to return tests and provide feedback in a prompt manner. This ensures that these tests are valuable to students and that the feedback is understood by students before moving on. There are also things to avoid in the development of assessments, such as; testing only memory or recall, including only questions of one level of difficulty, using only multiple-choice formats, making use of trick questions. The assessment should be one that includes the most important and meaningful information. Alex Levesque


In the school I work in we use DIBLES on a consistent basis to monitor every students reading progress. We then have monthly data meetings to go over where each student is at in literacy and math. The data is tracked using these DIBLES for literacy, and weekly math assessments. Our students with IEPS are pulled and monitored periodically using small informal assessments, and using online programs like Splash Math, Zearn, and Reading Eggs, which are continually monitoring and sending reports to classroom and special ed teachers. Progress monitoring is important so that students are not falling behind. We’re able to see their progress on a daily basis, and therefore giving them the supports they need immediately when they’re needed. If students were monitored less, than we may not catch a rough patch in time to try and help. Rachel Spain

The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) 8th Edition is an assessment that can be used for benchmark screening and monitoring growth of students in grades K-8. The early literacy development tool is a valid dyslexia screener as well. (Annenberg, Brown University)


In my school we use AIMSweb to assess students on reading and math, I really like how the program easily lays out how much progress students have or haven’t made and in what areas. I’ve found that we can see how their work in school and extra assistance directly correlates to their scores; such as if a student started receiving tutoring services and their scores improved accordingly.  Sarah Harkness

Aimsweb is a K-12 benchmark and progress monitoring system based on direct, frequent and continuous student assessment using brief, accurate measures of reading, math, spelling, and writing


cautionWhile these web-based progress monitoring systems are popular in schools, they are not the perfect fit for all students for a variety of reasons.

I have mixed feelings about some of these online assessment tools. My school uses iReady to assess reading and math. I have a fifth grade student who can do long division in his head, but got put on a kindergarten level on iReady because he clicked through and did not try the diagnostic assessment. We had him retake it, but he refused to try again. I know some teachers or paraprofessionals that have held the mouse and clicked the answers that the student provided verbally, to prevent them from just clicking through the assessment. It is also not always accurate because the iReady curriculum and benchmarks do not necessarily align with the curriculum and benchmarks at our school. For example, iReady might ask a first grader about halves and fourths, but at our school they do not learn fractions until about third grade. So iReady would put them lower than grade level just because they didn’t know a skill that they had not been taught and were not expected to know.

On the other hand, with long-term or short-term remote learning, online assessment tools can be extremely valuable! It is very challenging and sometimes near impossible to get accurate assessments over video meets, especially trying to assess IEP goals that were not intended to be worked on remotely. Anonymous


Monitoring a student’s IEP goals and objectives:

One thing that is different about students with IEPs is that in their IEP they have an annual measurable goal. The special educator needs a system of collecting data for when it’s time to fill out a progress report. The methods a teacher use might also depend on the student’s goals and objectives. I know some professionals who use Google Forms and spreadsheets to collect and store data, and others who use clipboards and physical folders. Rachel Stoudt.


One way that I have seen the teachers I work with monitor/check students progress is by having exit tickets. These can be presented in a multitude of ways depending on what the lesson was that was taught. However, it allows the teacher to check each individual students grasp of the content so they know if that student can move on or if they require more help in the current area. Some specific exit tickets that I have seen are write the letter on the board that we worked on today (when working on letter identification), solve this math problem (when working on new math concepts), or answer this question after reading/listening to this short prompt (when checking reading comprehension). There are so many ways that we could apply an exit ticket and I think it is important to implement daily monitoring of students progress because if you don’t you could push them on to the next concept when they simply aren’t ready for it.  Which only sets them up to struggle and have a difficult time. Nicole Coonrod


In my experience, much of kindergarten progress is done somewhat informally — a lot of the teachers I’ve worked with don’t use “fill in the blank” so much as they ask questions for comprehension.  On a day-by-day basis, the method that comes to mind is “snap words”— they learn and practice about five words on Monday, and by Friday the expectation is that they’ll recognize the word “in a snap”. Anonymous

Adapting Instruction

When evaluating adaptations, like accommodations or modifications, the IRIS module suggests considering the elements of C.R.I.M.E (Curriculum, Rules, Instruction, Materials, Environment) (The IRIS Center, 2004). Optimizing these 5 elements will ensure that all students are receiving an appropriate and meaningful education.

I adapt instruction for my students by ensuring access to instructional materials. I also make sure to provide instruction in various forms, written, visual, and auditory. I provide appropriate modifications according to students’ IEP (when applicable). Lately, I have been focusing on different scheduling adaptations. I incorporate a weekly assignment checklist, as well as a list of daily expectations for each class. I have found that this allows for students to be more self-paced and helps them to prioritize work that should be completed in class vs work that they can do on their own (in study hall or at home on a remote learning day). The IRIS Module reading inspired me to have a more distinct “group learning” time with the goal of direct instruction. Alicia Jobson


The difference between adapting and modifying instruction is, adapting the instruction is changing how the curriculum is taught, or presented, so that a student can access the curriculum. Whereas modifying the instruction is changing what is being taught or what the student is expected to learn. The main areas of importance when adapting instruction include, “maximizing individual student independence, maximizing student participation in all class activities with peers, maximizing student skill development, and minimizing the use of temporary solutions” (IRIS Center, 2004). Teachers need to know their students ability levels so that they can successfully adapt or modify instruction in ways that will most benefit the students. When adapting instruction it is important to keep in mind five elements of the classroom so that you will know what areas need adaptations. These five elements are comprised of; curriculum, rules, instruction, materials and environment. Michelle Shaw

The IRIS Center. (2004). Content standards: Connecting standards-based curriculum to instructional planning. Retrieved from (page 8)


 During remote learning, I have adapted assignments by providing closed captioning for my students with auditory problems. I have also modified assignments to be shorter while we are remote so the students do not have to spend as much time in front of a screen. Another way I have adapted instruction for my students is by providing structured notes. Structured notes help them follow along to the lecture and guide them to the important points that are being made in class. Anonymous


I am a para educator and at the Pre-K level find myself mainly working on accommodations rather than modifications.  I really love how much we have at our fingertips to make accommodations so easy for our students.  Whether it using visual diagrams and pictures added to our lessons or giving a student choices to express their understanding, it all makes a huge difference in each students progress.  Deanna Hanley

Curriculum mapping and yearlong planning 

These can be particularly useful tools for special educators. It can give them extra time to accommodate or modify lesson plans. It will give special educators time to gather any necessary material which may be beneficial to their students. It gives special educators an outline of the classroom teacher’s plans for the year, which in turn will help them design their own lesson plans.  Anonymous


Curriculum mapping takes a lot of planning and a lot of collaboration. But it really does pay off in the long run. It helps both teachers and students see the big picture and gives a better road map of where people are going, what routes they are taking, and makes the journey have more meaning. Keeping the “eye on the prize” can be motivational for a student, and gives them context for their day to day work.

Curriculum mapping is a natural part of a regular content teacher’s teaching agenda. It is very helpful for the teacher, administration, and ultimately the students to gain insight of what a course might entail and the nuts and bolts so to speak behind the course objectives. This is also so important in maintaining the integrity of a school and their curriculum in aligning with state and federal guidelines. For students on an Individualized Education Program, one of the parameters by law is the fact that we must provide information on how the child is progressing in the general curriculum. The definition of FAPE includes having a child make educational benefit that is “reasonably calculated” in terms of a nondisabled child’s educational program. Without having these mapping and yearlong planning, a special educator does not have a solid foundation by which educational benefit can be measured. Kari Grimes

Unit Planning

At the early childhood levels, I have seen a lot of times where the project is more of the focus (because it is fun or cute) and not necessarily the skill or outcome that is supposed to come from doing the lesson.  I’ve recently started planning lessons for my classroom and I have had to remind myself that there needs to be a goal and have been using the concept of backwards design.  It has helped me tremendously with staying on track for our classroom and individual student goals.  You cannot build a strong lesson without understanding what you want the outcome to be.

It is important to vary assessments based on the student.  I recently was able to observe assessments taking place throughout my school and was impressed with how each teacher approaches the students so differently based on their needs.  Being able to understand how your students can express their understanding is a huge skill on it’s own. Some of our teachers were really great and would fill me in before hand, for example, they’d say, “Watch, John won’t verbalize, but he will point to the correct answer.”  It is clear they really understand their students. Deanna Hanley


Instructional Planning. Authored by: Nicole Arduini-Van Hoose. Provided by: Hudson Valley Community College. Located at: . LicensePublic Domain: No Known Copyright

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