Cover: Implementation of K–12 State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts and Literacy

Implementation of K–12 State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts and Literacy

Findings from the American Teacher Panel

Published Apr 4, 2017

by V. Darleen Opfer, Julia H. Kaufman, Lindsey E. Thompson


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Research Questions

  1. How are teachers using instructional materials to address new state standards in English language arts and literacy (ELA) and mathematics?
  2. What are teachers' perceptions about the content and instructional approaches most aligned with their state standards?
  3. In what standards-aligned practices are teachers engaging their students?

New K–12 standards for mathematics and English language arts and literacy adopted recently in most states are more rigorous and far-reaching than most previous state standards. Some evidence suggests that teachers are not prepared to help students meet those standards. However, we have very little concrete information about how state standards are connected to what teachers think and do in their classrooms. The purpose of this report is to shed further light on teachers' implementation of state standards, including the instructional materials teachers are using to address state standards and how they are using them, their perceptions about the content and approaches most aligned with their standards, and the extent to which they are asking their students to engage in practices aligned with their standards. Data are drawn from nationally representative surveys of U.S. teachers administered in the summer and fall of 2015. The findings particularly focus on teachers in states that have adopted "Standards Adapted from the Common Core" (or "SACC" states). Results are intended to help states and school districts reflect upon areas where teachers may benefit from additional guidance about how to address their state standards in ways that best support student learning. The findings also point to subgroups of teachers who may be more likely to require additional resources or professional development to help them effectively implement these new changes.

Key Findings

State Standards Could Be Influencing the Selection and Use of Mathematics Curricula

  • High percentages of mathematics teachers in SACC states are using curricula aligned with Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and mathematics teachers report that their use of instructional materials is influenced by state standards and assessments more than ELA teachers.
  • Leveled readers are the dominant materials used by ELA teachers, particularly among teachers with potentially more struggling readers (e.g., teachers with high percentages of English Language Learners).
  • Use of district-developed and teacher-developed materials is widespread, and some evidence suggests that this is related to new standards in SACC states.

While CCSS for ELA and Literacy Emphasize Text Complexity and Close Reading, Many ELA Teachers in SACC States Indicate ELA Approaches Aligned with their State Standards Include Leveled Texts and Reading Instruction Not Centered on Texts

  • Although teachers do not necessarily identify instructional approaches most aligned with CCSS, a majority report their students regularly engaging in text-centered practices, although fewer report student engagement in writing.
  • We observe no differences in perceptions of ELA/literacy state standards and standards-aligned practices among those from higher versus lower income schools.

Most Mathematics Teachers in SACC States Can Identify Topics Aligned with CCSS at Their Grade Level, Although Some Identify Additional Topics Not Aligned With CCSS

  • Perceptions among teachers serving different types of students (e.g., more students qualifying for free or reduced priced lunch) differ on "aspects of rigor" targeted by particular standards.
  • Many mathematics teachers report engaging their students in standards-aligned practices regularly, though fewer teachers report student engagement in construction of viable arguments.


The areas where states and districts could provide more guidance and supports for teachers to implement state standards for ELA and literacy include

  • selection and development of high-quality instructional materials aligned with standards
  • additional guidance on practices that take into account repertoires of close reading and skills-based reading instruction for different texts, purposes, and contexts.

The areas where states and districts could provide more guidance and supports for teachers to implement state standards for mathematics include

  • selection and development of high-quality instructional materials aligned with standards at the secondary level
  • further clarity on key content at each grade level
  • guidance about how to address aspects of rigor with equal time and intensity.

Future research could provide guidance on which instructional materials are well aligned with state standards, particularly for ELA and secondary mathematics, as well as which particular approaches might best help students meet state standards.

Researchers might also consider supports needed by teachers of student populations that are more difficult to teach, including struggling readers; these teachers need clear guidance, support, and strategies for engaging their students with grade-level texts.

The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education.

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