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Curriculum Q & A Blog, Question 53: What are “priority standards” and how can they inform student progress when using the Flex Curriculum: 2020-21?

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    EL Education

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What are “priority standards” and how can they inform student progress when using the Flex Curriculum: 2020-21?

Priority standards best exemplify the practices of 1) spending a lot of time reading complex texts, and 2) having a volume of reading to build knowledge and academic language. Priority standards cross the domains of reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language and they give the reading of complex texts and the volume of reading on a topic purpose and meaning as students read, think, talk, and write about texts.

On the Recommendations and Guiding Principles for 2020-21 Flex Curriculum webpage, under Assessment Recommendations and Rationale, the following standards are described as priority standards “to review to determine student progress prior to summative assessments to inform instructional decisions”: R.1, R.4, R.10, RF.4, W.8, W.9, SL.1, L.4, L.5, and L.6. These standards were selected based on guidance by Student Achievement Partners in their document 2020-2021 Priority Instructional Content in English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics.


How do I use these priority standards to inform instruction?

A focus on these priority standards in instruction and in formative assessments will ensure that, regardless of the learning environment students are experiencing in the 2020-21 school year, students will have the opportunity to develop the skills that matter most. For example, a focus on R.1 will ensure that students are being given instruction, and the opportunity to practice and receive feedback, on citing evidence from text. This will support them when practicing and developing all other reading skills. For example, students cite evidence from the text in the form of details to support their thinking about main ideas or themes when practicing or being assessed on R.2. R.1 will also support students in writing with authority as they cite evidence to support their claims in W.1 and W.2.

As stated in the Flex Curriculum recommendations and rationale, focusing on these standards in formative assessment, and then identifying where students have gaps, can inform instructional priorities in the lessons leading up to summative assessments. Being proficient in many of the skills highlighted in the priority standards is crucial to success in the skills required by other standards, as highlighted in the example above. If students are struggling with the priority standards, it is likely this will transfer to all related standards, and therefore will impact student progress and achievement across the board.

Prioritizing tracking progress and providing feedback on these skills during summative assessments will also support students in developing these skills, whether fully remote, hybrid or full-time in the classroom. For example, focusing on providing feedback on R.1 in a writing assessment will ensure students progress in the key skill of citing evidence from text in their writing. The Tracking Progress forms accompanying assessments in the Grades 3-8 second edition curriculum are designed to support students in tracking their own progress toward the priority standards, and also for teachers to provide feedback specifically on the priority standards. Regardless of the learning scenario students are engaged in, we recommend requiring students to complete the Tracking Progress forms after an assessment.


So what is the purpose of the other standards?

The skills required by the non-priority standards provide strategies to support students in deepening their understanding of the content. For example, identifying the main idea of a text, as required by R.2, is a way of checking understanding of the key points an author wants the reader to take away. The process of finding the main idea encourages the reader to closely read the text to identify supporting details, and doing so deepens understanding of the text and therefore the content.

If I should focus on the priority standards, why did EL Education create a standards crosswalk for the Flex Curriculum?

The EL Education curriculum is designed to teach and assess all of the college- and career-ready standards. As we are recommending students continue to engage in the curriculum regardless of learning environment (e.g., in-person, remote, or hybrid), they will continue to encounter instruction around specific skills connected to standards, as written in the curriculum lesson plans. The skills are designed to build from one grade level to the next, so if students have missed specific skills in the previous grade level due to school closures in the spring and summer, they may experience frustration due to gaps in foundational understanding when encountering skills at the next grade level. Identifying in advance what and where the gaps might be, ensures teachers can allow for additional time to build the necessary foundations of a skill before increasing the rigor required by the current grade level, and therefore can prevent frustration by students.

Working with standards, particularly this year, isn’t an all or nothing situation. When prioritizing time and making decisions about what to focus on, prioritize the highest leverage skills that the other standards depend on. Being successful in those priority skills will provide students with a greater opportunity to master other useful literacy skills that will support them in ultimately being college and career ready.

For more general information about our curriculum, check out our website or our books Your Curriculum Companion: The Essential Guide to Teaching the EL Education K–5 Language Arts Curriculum and Your Curriculum Companion: The Essential Guide to Teaching the EL Education 6–8 Curriculum. If you have questions related to this blog, please email us at: ELcurriculumblog@eleducation.org.