PPI Series: Standards vs. Curriculum vs. Assessment—What’s the Difference?

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part three of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

When people talk about “Common Core” and higher standards, what exactly are they referring to? In today’s post, I’ll use an analogy to explain the role and purpose of education standards.

In order to earn your driver’s license, you first must be able to demonstrate the knowledge and skills associated with driving.  But the State of New York doesn’t mandate exactly how you learn to drive.  So although the state insists that you know how to parallel park, understand traffic signs, are able to merge onto the highway, etc. (those are the standards), you have some choices as to how to learn these skills and knowledge.  You can choose between a short pre-licensing course or a longer driver’s education course.  You have some freedom to decide where and when to practice driving.  You might decide to review videos and other instructional materials and take a few practice tests, or you might not.  All of those lessons, practice sessions, and materials constitute the curriculum.  The same principle is behind the Common Core standards:  They specify what we expect students to know and be able in to do in each grade to progress and, by the end of high school, to be college- and career-ready.   How to get students to that point—including decisions about curriculum, training, tools, materials, and textbooks—is up to states, districts, schools, and teachers.

Assessments or tests are the instruments the state uses to measure mastery of a set of standards.  States that adopted the Common Core standards were not required to increase the amount of testing.  Whenever standards change, however, any tests that are used to measure mastery of those standards need to be modified to accurately reflect the same content as the new standards.  Thus, for example, when New York State changes any of the rules of the road that drivers are expected to know (e.g., the “Move Over” Law passed in 2012), it has to update the road test and written test to appropriately address the new material.  The degree to which standards, curriculum, and assessments address the same content is called alignment.

Want to learn more about the Common Core standards? Watch for more blog posts in this series, and visit the Public Policy Institute of New York State website. But don’t just take our word for it. You can read the actual standards at www.corestandards.org/.

Please click here to read the second part in this ongoing series.

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