extensive set of detailed standards either omit standards or measure some with a handful of items, threatening the reliability and validity of the interpretations from the assessment. Teachers face a similar dilemma. An analysis of standards documents by the Mid-Continent Regional Educational Laboratory found that it would take about 15,000 classroom hours to teach adequately the content included in standards documents in 14 subject areas—a length of time that would add 9 or 10 years to a child's school career (Marzano et al., 1999). Faced with such an overwhelming task, teachers are likely to select the standards they choose to teach, and the purpose of standards as a guiding document will get lost.

Teachers also face challenges in districts that have adopted their own sets of standards, in addition to the standards the state has developed. Without a mechanism for determining the alignment of the district standards with the state standards, teachers have to choose whether to focus on one or the other. They are most likely either to choose which standards to teach or to focus on those reflected in a test.

In an aligned system, the state's standards become the core knowledge and skills that students are expected to demonstrate at critical junctures, and the basis for determining school progress. A district's standards would elaborate on the state's standards and provide the basis for professional development to enhance teachers' knowledge and skills in improving student learning.


  • Content standards must be clear, parsimonious, and rigorous.
  • States and districts should obtain external review for their content standards to ensure that the standards reflect a high level of clarity and rigor and an appropriate level of specificity.
  • Content standards must provide clear direction to educators responsible for the design of assessments, professional development, and curriculum materials.
  • Content standards must provide clear direction to teachers and administrators about what they need to teach to improve student learning.

Questions to Ask


    Have the standards been reviewed independently for their clarity, rigor, and parsimony?


    Do the standards provide clear guidance to designers of assessments, professional development programs, and curriculum materials?


    Do the standards provide clear guidance to teachers?

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