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This topic explores academic content standards, which are standards developed by each state that define what students should know in each academic subject area.


Almost every state has adopted the academic content standards of the Common Core State Standards initiative. These standards define what all students should know and be able to do in subject areas. In addition to identifying what is important for all students in each state to learn, these academic content standards also serve as the basis for state assessments.

Writing academic content standards and designing ways to measure them are required by the Title I provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA requires that academic content standards (a) specify what all students are expected to know and be able to do, (b) contain coherent and rigorous content, and (c) encourage the teaching of advanced skills. This federal law also requires that schools assess the progress of all their students in achieving the standards and report their results.

Classroom teachers can use the academic content standards to guide the selection of curriculum materials and the use of instructional strategies. Ideally, classroom and district assessments are also aligned with academic content standards (Marzano, 1999). Aligning local activities with state standards and assessments helps to ensure that students will reach the academic expectations that the state has set for them.

The academic content standards that a state sets are for all students, including students with disabilities. This means that students with disabilities are to be held accountable to the academic content standards that have been established for other students. If students with disabilities are to be held accountable to the academic content standards, then they must also have access to the quality instructional strategies and curriculum materials that will help them reach those standards. Careful alignment of curriculum and instruction to the standards set for all students, along with the necessary learning supports, ensures that students with disabilities have access to the general curriculum and are held to high standards (Porter & Smithson, 2001).


The following sources were cited in this Introduction. For additional research and resources, see our links to other pages on this topic below.

Marzano, R. J. (1999). Building curriculum and assessment around standards. The High School Magazine, 6(5), 14-19.

Porter, A. C., & Smithson, J. L. (2001). Are content standards being implemented in the classroom? A methodology and some tentative answers. In S. H. Fuhrman (Ed.), From the Capitol to the classroom: Standards-based reform in the states—One hundredth yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Part II (pp. 60-80). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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This page was last updated on January 12, 2022.