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Standards are often seen as checklists. “Yeah, we do that already” is sometimes a common sentiment. I also hear, “There are so many standards, so we must prioritize which ones we teach.” So, what is the purpose of standards and how should they be used?

Simply put, standards outline what students should know and be able to do in a certain content area, but the implementation of standards is much more complex. First, standards impact individual teachers, but they should also impact districts from a systems perspective. Many standards are written to build upon one another and Iowa’s new K-12 social studies standards are no exception. Consider the two standards below:


Inquiry Anchor Standard Inquiry Standard
Gathering and Evaluating Sources 1st Grade SS.1.3. Determine if a source is primary or secondary and distinguish whether it is mostly fact or opinion.
Gathering and Evaluating Sources 9th-12th Grade SS.9-12.3. Gather relevant information from multiple sources representing a wide range of views while using the origin, authority, structure, context, and corroborative value of the sources to guide the selection.

The first standard is a 1st grade standard from the Gathering and Evaluating Sources anchor standard and the second standard is from the same anchor standard in 9th-12th grade. As you can see, this anchor standard gets more complex as students move from grade to grade. Individual teachers might look at the standard that applies to their grade level and think about what it means for their own classroom. They might unpack the standard by looking at the verbs used and think about the complexity of the standard. Once that is done, they might think about how the standard would be used within a unit of instruction. Could this one standard show up in multiple units or should it only be used once? In this case, the standard might show up in multiple units throughout the year. Perhaps the teacher might introduce this concept in the first units of the year and keep building on it throughout the year. It might not be until several units into the year that a teacher would summatively assess this standard with students. In this sense, standards cannot be seen as checklists, but a spiraling bridge helping teachers and students in recognizing and continually revisiting what they know and are able to do with growing complexity over time.

A district might need to think about some of the same things a teacher would, but would need to also consider how the standards work together in a PK-12 system. In thinking about the standards used above, there are broad implications for districts. For example, a district would need to have K-12 vertical and horizontal discussions so that the standards are not viewed in isolation. Additional questions to think about could include:

  • How much time are we devoting to social studies at the PK-5 levels so that these standards can be best implemented?
  • What are the social studies standards in the Iowa Early Learning Standards (IELS) used in our preschool program?
  • How does our kindergarten program build upon the IELS to provide opportunities to revisit and build upon concepts and standards provided in preschool classrooms? How can these be reinforced?
  • How are social studies standards reflected in our own classroom environments and actions to support not only content but conceptual learning, i.e. democracy and individual voice in classroom meetings, etc?
  • How much professional development in social studies is available to teachers across the district?
  • What does quality social studies instruction look like PK-12? (A helpful tool to use might be the Best Practices Rubric.)
  • How do we know if students in our district have mastered the Iowa Core social studies standards? What do we do if they have not?
  • Do we have common assessments to monitor and measure mastery of the Iowa Core social studies standards?

The statewide professional development being offered this year helps address how to put the standards together into cohesive units of instruction and make sense of the standards as a system, rather than a checklist. This is the second year of implementation for Iowa’s new social studies standards. So, what is happening to support implementation this year?

Questions? Contact stefanie.wager@iowa.gov.

Posted by : stefanie.wager