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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Common Core Big Idea Series 2: The Standards Are Not Curriculum

Jay McTighe

education author and consultant

Editor's note: This is the second post in a five-part series which takes a look at five big ideas for implementation of the Common Core State Standards, authored by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins

The Introduction to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematics makes a noteworthy point: “These Standards do not dictate curriculum or teaching methods.” (p 5). A similar point is offered by the ELA Standards:

“The Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach. For instance, the use of play with young children is not specified by the Standards, but it is welcome as a valuable activity in its own right and as a way to help students meet the expectations in this document… The Standards must therefore be complemented by a well-developed, content-rich curriculum consistent with the expectations laid out in this document.” (p. 6)

Indeed, these statements highlight the intent of any set of standards; i.e., they focus on outcomes, not curriculum or instruction. The implication is clear -- educators must translate the CCSS into an engaging and effective curriculum. So, what is the relationship between the Standards and curriculum? Consider another analogy with home building and renovation: The standards are like the building code. Architects and builders must attend to them but they are not the purpose of the design. The house to be built or renovated is designed to meet the needs of the client in a functional and pleasing manner -- while also meeting the building code along the way.

Similarly, while curriculum and instruction must address established standards, we always want to keep the long-term educational ends in mind -- the development of important capabilities in the learner. In other words, a curriculum works with the CCSS to frame optimal learning experiences. To shift analogies, these standards are more like the ingredients in a recipe than the final meal; they are more like the rules of the game instead of strategy for succeeding at the game.

So then, what is a curriculum? In research for our book, Understanding by Design (Wiggins and McTighe, 1997), we uncovered 83 different definitions or connotations for the word, curriculum, in the educational literature! Such a variety of meanings confer an unhelpful ambiguity on the challenge of moving from standards to curriculum. Worse, most definitions focus on inputs, not outputs -- what will be “covered” rather than a plan for what learners should be able to accomplish with learned content. This is a core misunderstanding in our field. Marching through a list of topics or skills cannot be a “guaranteed and viable” way to ever yield the sophisticated outcomes that the CCSS envision.

The ELA Standards make this point clearly by framing everything around “anchor standards,” all of which highlight complex abilities and performances that students should master for college and workplace readiness. The Mathematics Standards’ emphasis on the need to weave the Content and Practice Standards together in a curriculum makes the same point.

From Common Core Standards to Curriculum Series: Five Big Ideas
In this series, authors Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins explore five big ideas about the Common Core State Standards and their translation into a curriculum. The goal of this series is to clear up misunderstandings and offer recommendations for designing a coherent curriculum and assessment system for realizing the standards' promise.

Jay McTighe

education author and consultant
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In This Series
In this series, authors Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins explore five big ideas about the Common Core State Standards and their translation into a curriculum. The goal of this series is to clear up misunderstandings and offer recommendations for designing a coherent curriculum and assessment system for realizing the standards' promise.

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Amanda Hodges's picture

You are right they are not the curriculum. It is for our district the report card for k-3rd grade because of the Standards Base Report Cards. It makes it hard to not do things that relate to the standards. I also don't like that because Common Core is what they need to be at by the end of the year makes it hard to grade students with a standards base report card when they are not proficient when you send out two report cards. It doesn't help the parents any because they don't get what it means when I grade them and they get a 4, 3, 2, or a 1. They say are they mastered when they get a 4. They need help with a 1. But most of it is my interpretation of the student and if they understand the standards.

Cathy's picture
Cathy
Sixth grade Langauge Arts and Social Studies teacher from Connecticut

The analogy you present explaining the standards as the rule to a game rather than a strategy used to help win that game really helped me understand the message you were sending. As a language arts teacher, our instruction and curriculum is changing drastically because of new testing and the standards. We are also going to be moving toward standard based report cards. I am quite nervous about this switch because, like Amanda mentioned, parents need to have an understanding of what each of these items means. Our instruction needs to be completely based on the standards if our report cards will be assessed this way. There is a fine line between the "rules" and the "strategy" and I hope teachers are able to keep their own teaching style when basing their instruction on the new standards.

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