State academic standards: What you need to know

At a glance

  • Academic standards are what public school students are expected to learn in reading, math and other subjects in each grade.

  • Academic standards are set by individual states, not the federal government.

  • Students with learning and thinking differences aren’t exempt from these standards.

How do you know what your child is expected to learn this school year and next? The answer is in your state’s academic standards.

Read on for an introduction to state standards and how they work.

How academic standards set learning expectations

Academic standards are what public school students are expected to learn in reading, math and other subjects. Standards are set by grade. They begin in kindergarten and continue through to requirements for high school graduation.

For example, a first-grade standard might require students to learn to retell stories and understand their key messages. A fourth-grade standard might require students to learn how to multiply a fraction by a whole number.

The goal of academic standards is to make sure all students are taught the same core, fundamental skills. This is part of what schools call general education.

Academic standards vs. curriculum and testing

Academic standards are different from curriculum. Standards tell you what your child is expected to learn. Curriculum is the content that’s taught to help your child meet the standards. While the first-grade standard might be to retell a story, the first-grade curriculum might include books like Bernard Waber’s Ira Sleeps Over.

Sometimes people confuse standards with standardized testing. They aren’t the same, though they are related. Standardized testing is when you give the same test to all or many students in a school system to see if they’re meeting the standards. Testing helps hold schools accountable for what students are supposed to learn.

Who sets academic standards and curriculum

Traditionally in the United States, education is considered a state responsibility. States and local communities set academic standards and curriculum.

You can find your state standards on the website for your state’s department of education. Your local school must follow these standards. However, the school may add more requirements and has some say over how standards are taught. (Keep in mind that private schools don’t have to follow state academic standards. If your child is homeschooled, the rules vary by state.)

The federal government doesn’t set academic standards for schools. However, federal laws can influence the standards that states choose. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires that states have “challenging” academic standards in reading, math and science. ESSA also requires that state standards prepare students for college and career.

State academic standards can vary widely from state to state. In recent years, many states have decided to adopt a uniform set of academic standards called the Common Core State Standards. Common Core is a state initiative. It doesn’t come from the federal government.

However, even among the states that use Common Core, there can still be big differences in what’s taught in schools. Some states have added new sets of standards for subjects like science and art. Also, Common Core is a set of standards, not a curriculum. States and local communities still set the curriculum, such as what books kids read in school, or what topics are covered in social studies class.

Academic standards and kids with learning and thinking differences

Students with learning and thinking differences aren’t exempt from academic standards. Like their peers, they’re expected to meet the standards and learn certain skills in each grade.

In fact, the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to participate in the general education curriculum. It also requires they get the supports and services they need to help them meet the standards. The U.S. Department of Education has guidance for schools on kids with IEPs and grade-level standards.

If your child isn’t meeting academic standards, there are things you can do. You can reach out to your child’s teacher for help. You can request an evaluation. Or if your child has an , you can look into how to fine-tune the IEP goals and services.

Key takeaways

  • Academic standards can vary a lot by state.

  • You can find your state’s standards on the website for your state’s department of education.

  • Federal law requires schools to help students with IEPs meet state academic standards.


Explore related topics

Read next