Content Standards


The content of education is, of course, of extreme importance to the future of our society. Fortunately, in recent years, content standards have been developed for almost all of the discipline areas, either by teams from the disciplines themselves or by agencies in various states. These content standards serve as a third dimension of our model (Switzer, Callahan, & Quinn, 1999).

Our content standard is grounded in two areas; The National Content Standard from each discipline and its compliment, the Core Knowledge Sequence of the Core Knowledge Foundation. Core Knowledge compliments Content Standards because it “doesn’t replace the skills-based curriculum, but it compliments it by providing carefully sequenced and challenging knowledge in which to ground skills instruction” ( Because the Core Knowledge Sequence is “aimed at making up at least 50% of all curriculum,” it provides a beneficial guide to the content provided by National Standards (Core Knowledge Foundation, 1999). Both areas of comparison are needed because skills need processes, and processes need skills.

A content standard in education is a statement that can be used to judge the quality of curriculum content or as part of a method of evaluation. K-12 standards should clearly describe the specific content that should be taught and learned during the K-12 years, grade by grade. Content standards articulate an essential core of knowledge and skills that students should master. Standards clarify what students are expected to know and be able to do at various points in their K-12 academic career. Most states (excluding Iowa) have implemented state standards in various content areas. Local adoption and implementation of state standards ensures that the education students receive is consistently strong across all of a state and that completion of high school has common meaning throughout the state (Kendall & Marzano, 1997).

“Standards guide teachers in identifying and focusing instruction on the essential knowledge and skills students should learn in each grade level” (San Jose Unified School District, 1999). Ideally, one teacher is made responsible for teaching the standard, measuring student mastery, and taking timely corrective action when mastery is not achieved.

In a standards based system, subject matter is focused. Instruction reflects the best of what we know about learning. Students are clear about their tasks and are motivated to learn as they see connections to other disciplines and to life. Teachers have increased opportunities to engage in ongoing conversations about student learning (San Jose Unified School District, 1999). 

The starting point for the current emphasis on education standards is the 1983 report “A Nation at Risk” (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). “The concern about the viability of our educational system led to the first education summit in September, 1989, during which President Bush and the nation's governors agreed upon six broad goals under the title The National Education Goals Report: Building a Nation of Learners (Marzano & Kendall, 1998). The message of these goal statements was the mandate for American educators to “identify rigorous standards regarding what students should know and be able to do in all academic areas” (Marzano & Kendall, 1998). As a consequence, subject-matter organizations started to establish content standards in their respective areas (Marzano & Kendall, 1998). 

Content standards define only the core elements of education that should apply to all students without regard to their specific career and academic plans. Every student is expected to achieve goals that are broader than those outlined by the standards. However, at the high school level, many students heading directly to postsecondary study or to the workplace will require learning experiences that are outside of the essential core in specific content areas set forth in the standards. Therefore, during the high school years, the focus shifts from the core standards (what goes into the educational system) to the students’ postsecondary transition, or the results of the content standards (what comes out of the educational system). 

Content standards can accomplish three primary goals:

  • Give students and teachers a clear and challenging target 

  • Help focus energy and resources on the bottom line: student achievement 

  • Give all of us a tool for judging how well our students are learning and how well our schools are performing 

Standards have been articulated for evaluating both student performance and curricular programs, with an emphasis on gathering information from which teachers can base subsequent instruction. The standards also acknowledge the value of gathering information about student growth and achievement for research and administrative purposes. 

Core Knowledge Sequence: Core Knowledge is distinguished by the specificity of its model that provides content from kindergarten through eighth grade. In order to avoid repetition in instruction, “the Sequence represents a first and ongoing attempt to state specifically a core of shared knowledge that children should learn in American schools” (Core Knowledge Foundation, 1999). The Sequence provides a foundation to build knowledge upon, grade by grade.

McREL Standards: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) is involved in research, practice, and evaluation related to standards-based education. McREL has developed a compilation of 256 kindergarten through twelfth grade content standards as well as 4,100 benchmarks in 14 major content areas. These standards were compiled using 137 documents and 14 professional subject-area organizations.

The content standards listed below and identified in the INTIME project videos have been adopted from the national content standards of the discipline's national organization. Tables cross-referencing national content standards with the Core Knowledge Sequence and McREL Standards are also available in several content areas.


Core Knowledge. [On-line].
Core Knowledge Foundation, (1999). Core Knowledge Sequence: Content Guidelines for Grades K-8 .

Kendall, J. S., & Marzano, R. J. (1997). Content knowledge: A compendium of standards and benchmarks for K-12 education[On-line]. Available: [2000, April 2] 

Marzano, R. J., & Kendall, J. S. (1998). Awash in a sea of standards [On-line]. Available: [2000, May 23] 

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning. [On-line]. Available: [2002, May 3]

San Jose Unified School District. (1999). All students can learn--All students can succeed [On-line]. Available: [2000, May 22] 

Switzer, T. J., Callahan, W. P., & Quinn, L. (1999, March).Technology as facilitator of quality education: An unfinished model. Paper presented at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education, San Antonio. 

Sources Consulted

Alliance for Curriculum Reform [Homepage] (2000). Available: [2000, April 8]

Hill, C. (2000). Developing educational standards [On-line]. Available: [2000, March 16] 

US Department of Education. (1996, Spring). Improving America's school: A newsletter on issues in school reform [On-line]. Available: [2000, May 22] 

Permission to excerpt from the Core Knowledge Sequence [1999] has been granted from the Core Knowledge Foundation. The Core Knowledge Sequence [1999] can be acquired from the Core Knowledge Foundation at: