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September 12, 2016

# Plan With Priority Standards to Increase Student Achievement

Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

One of the hardest things about laying out the year is fitting in all the standards for all the subjects while maximizing student learning. It can be a bit overwhelming to stare down 28 different math standards, as our fourth grade teachers are accountable for each year. Priority standards can help pair down what you need to accomplish and prioritize so that you get the maximum bang for your lesson.

Priority standards are those standards that encompass many smaller standards into one big bad standard. For example, take the fourth grade Operations and Algebraic Thinking domain in math. The first few standards are all about multiplication and division, so what is the priority? The third standard actually relies on knowledge gained in the first two standards; in order to solve multi-step word problems with all four operations, students would have to know how to represent equations and solve them in a variety of ways. This third standard then becomes a priority standard. Not only is it meaty in content, it represents a big focus area for fourth grade, it is referenced heavily in the testing blueprints, and the other standards in the domain help build mastery of this standard. Ta-da! We have a winner, but what does this mean?

Priority standards give an overall goal for the content. This is our big goal at the end that will prove students have mastery. By prioritizing this, I can look at the other standards and see what helps support the priority standard. I can break down the entire domain to support and build up to this key idea. I can also look for areas throughout the rest of my domains and standards that will help support this priority. Selecting just a few priority standards for the year, or maybe a key standard in each unit of learning, will help organize and prioritize what is most important to get across in each lesson.

Three things that you have to consider when picking priority standards include:

1. Know your focus areas

2. Know your blueprints

3. Build to mastery

### Focus Areas

Here’s a real-life example. Third grade focus areas include multiplication and division, basic fraction concepts, and geometry with area, perimeter, and polygons. Third grade also has a standard that students should know how to find elapsed time. Without referencing the focus areas, a teacher might assume that elapsed time, being a real-life and often difficult skill, should be a priority. That is not the case. This standard, while still important to teach, isn’t going to give the teacher the most bang for her buck. A better way to cover this standard would be with daily practice through classroom routines.

### Know Your Blueprints

Blueprints are the guide to testing that is provided by whatever state agency oversees your standardized testing. Local blueprints might exist if your district provides common assessments. The issuing party has control and every state and district provides information differently. Some blueprints are extremely specific and offer a guide as to what kinds of questions will be asked along with the number of each kind of problem. Other blueprints look more like a general pacing guide with only broad areas noted. Regardless, it is important to look over the blueprints and know what to expect. If you see, for example, a blueprint that indicates more than half of the test questions will concern fractions with unlike denominators, you should prioritize your teaching accordingly. If only one question will be about measurement, it’s a good indication that isn’t a priority, at least not for this test.

PARCC offers blueprints online for both ELA and Mathematics. Smarter Balance (SBAC) offers blueprints for both content areas as well. ACT Aspire gives exemplar items for the tests they offer. If your state offers a different test, simply search the test name or company with the word “blueprint.” A little sifting usually turns up blueprints, sample items, and scoring information that can help you determine where to place your priority in teaching. Just a note before the testing naysayers get angry: this is just one way to help guide priority standard selection and is certainly not an endorsement for teaching to the test.

### Build to Mastery

You cannot start on the bottom step and jump to the top. This seems really obvious, but we look at that priority standard and think that’s exactly what we should be able to do. The reality is, students take just one step at a time. We need to teach that way too. By putting your standards in a hierarchy, and determining what the big end goal is, you are setting your priority standard. In doing so, you’ve already laid out how to move one step at a time. Match up lessons that move in the same path, and your students will be running for the top step in no time. Remember that all experts were once beginners.

Larry Ainsworth, author of Prioritizing the Common Core: Identifying Specific Standards to Emphasize the Most, offers a method for educators to prioritize standards that he says will “focus their curriculum, instruction, and assessments to help all students achieve.” And isn’t that really what we are all aiming for?

Need more Common Core? Check out Scholastic’s Common Sense for the Common Core featuring lessons, booklists, news, expert videos, and core basics while Scholastic Administrator offers a guide to Cramming for the Common Core when preparing for assessments.

One of the hardest things about laying out the year is fitting in all the standards for all the subjects while maximizing student learning. It can be a bit overwhelming to stare down 28 different math standards, as our fourth grade teachers are accountable for each year. Priority standards can help pair down what you need to accomplish and prioritize so that you get the maximum bang for your lesson.

Priority standards are those standards that encompass many smaller standards into one big bad standard. For example, take the fourth grade Operations and Algebraic Thinking domain in math. The first few standards are all about multiplication and division, so what is the priority? The third standard actually relies on knowledge gained in the first two standards; in order to solve multi-step word problems with all four operations, students would have to know how to represent equations and solve them in a variety of ways. This third standard then becomes a priority standard. Not only is it meaty in content, it represents a big focus area for fourth grade, it is referenced heavily in the testing blueprints, and the other standards in the domain help build mastery of this standard. Ta-da! We have a winner, but what does this mean?

Priority standards give an overall goal for the content. This is our big goal at the end that will prove students have mastery. By prioritizing this, I can look at the other standards and see what helps support the priority standard. I can break down the entire domain to support and build up to this key idea. I can also look for areas throughout the rest of my domains and standards that will help support this priority. Selecting just a few priority standards for the year, or maybe a key standard in each unit of learning, will help organize and prioritize what is most important to get across in each lesson.

Three things that you have to consider when picking priority standards include:

1. Know your focus areas

2. Know your blueprints

3. Build to mastery

### Focus Areas

Here’s a real-life example. Third grade focus areas include multiplication and division, basic fraction concepts, and geometry with area, perimeter, and polygons. Third grade also has a standard that students should know how to find elapsed time. Without referencing the focus areas, a teacher might assume that elapsed time, being a real-life and often difficult skill, should be a priority. That is not the case. This standard, while still important to teach, isn’t going to give the teacher the most bang for her buck. A better way to cover this standard would be with daily practice through classroom routines.

### Know Your Blueprints

Blueprints are the guide to testing that is provided by whatever state agency oversees your standardized testing. Local blueprints might exist if your district provides common assessments. The issuing party has control and every state and district provides information differently. Some blueprints are extremely specific and offer a guide as to what kinds of questions will be asked along with the number of each kind of problem. Other blueprints look more like a general pacing guide with only broad areas noted. Regardless, it is important to look over the blueprints and know what to expect. If you see, for example, a blueprint that indicates more than half of the test questions will concern fractions with unlike denominators, you should prioritize your teaching accordingly. If only one question will be about measurement, it’s a good indication that isn’t a priority, at least not for this test.

PARCC offers blueprints online for both ELA and Mathematics. Smarter Balance (SBAC) offers blueprints for both content areas as well. ACT Aspire gives exemplar items for the tests they offer. If your state offers a different test, simply search the test name or company with the word “blueprint.” A little sifting usually turns up blueprints, sample items, and scoring information that can help you determine where to place your priority in teaching. Just a note before the testing naysayers get angry: this is just one way to help guide priority standard selection and is certainly not an endorsement for teaching to the test.

### Build to Mastery

You cannot start on the bottom step and jump to the top. This seems really obvious, but we look at that priority standard and think that’s exactly what we should be able to do. The reality is, students take just one step at a time. We need to teach that way too. By putting your standards in a hierarchy, and determining what the big end goal is, you are setting your priority standard. In doing so, you’ve already laid out how to move one step at a time. Match up lessons that move in the same path, and your students will be running for the top step in no time. Remember that all experts were once beginners.

Larry Ainsworth, author of Prioritizing the Common Core: Identifying Specific Standards to Emphasize the Most, offers a method for educators to prioritize standards that he says will “focus their curriculum, instruction, and assessments to help all students achieve.” And isn’t that really what we are all aiming for?

Need more Common Core? Check out Scholastic’s Common Sense for the Common Core featuring lessons, booklists, news, expert videos, and core basics while Scholastic Administrator offers a guide to Cramming for the Common Core when preparing for assessments.

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