How Many Standards Should a Lesson Address?

  • Common Core State Standards
  • 04 September, 2013

This question came in from a reader asking specifically about some units proposed by the Education Department in Louisiana. I'm sharing my response with everyone because I think the confusion in Louisiana is general across the nation.


The Education Department in Louisiana (Louisiana Believes) has a scope and sequence that teachers can use to teach the CCSS in ELA. Teachers have informed me there are too many standards in each ELA unit to teach in order to effectively teach them. Of the 10 standards in each of the following: reading literature, reading information, and writing, most of them are listed in each ELA unit. Teachers are aware that students should be proficient in all ELA standards for their grade level. 

What are your thoughts regarding teachers focusing on 3-5 ELA standards per unit and continuing to work with these standards throughout the rest of the units? They will be teaching the remaining ELA standards as they apply to the text.  Focus standards in each unit will continue to be taught and students will continue to work with them throughout the year.  By the end of the year, they will have taught and students will have worked with all ELA standards in their grade level with the goal of students being proficient in all ELA standards for the grade level.

In your opinion, would it be effective for teachers to do this?  

Shanahan Reply: 

I have taken a look at the Louisiana material and I can see why teachers are confused. The lists of books are useful, but many of the assignments seem not to be especially connected to Common Core (writing one’s own story based on the pictures in a storybook does not constitute writing from sources, for example). In terms of your specific question…

  First, although CCSS has fewer standards than were evident in past state standards, they are still overwhelming. Listing pretty much all of the standards for each unit is pretty worthless as a management approach. Let’s get some control of this.

  I think it is imperative that teachers understand that there are not 20 reading comprehension standards at each grade level, but only 10. CCSS shows how these 10 standards look in literary and informational texts, hence the confusion that these constitute 20 separate standards. There are also 10 writing standards, and these overlap in important ways with the reading standards (see items 7-8-9). My point is that it will be helpful to see these lists in the most economical ways possible. Fewer standards will give you greater purchase on the entire set. The Louisiana materials--by listing each standard repeatedly for each unit--magnifies the problem of too many items to focus on; it should be striving to reduce the load, not increase it.

Second, the categories are as important as the individual standards (since the categories reveal the purposes of what are in each set). The Louisiana plan misses this key point and it is part of the reason the guidance is so overwhelming. For example, the first three reading standards emphasize that readers need to be able to grasp the “key ideas and details” of the texts they read. They should, for instance, be able to summarize what they read, or answer questions about what the text said explicitly or implied. Looking at these categorically will help you to see them in a more coherent way. The Louisiana materials encourage a more fragmented approach, and teachers are overwhelmed by all the little pieces.

  Third, it is important to understand that standards are not synonymous with curriculum (something that CCSS has stressed repeatedly). If you are trying to teach students to make sense of a text’s key ideas and details what do you need to teach to get them there? It might be helpful to teach them to identify a main idea or how to paraphrase; or some kind of note-taking might help. By just matching outcomes with texts/assignments, the whole idea of curriculum has been washed away. Louisiana’s guidance neglects this basic point—again, confusing things.

  However, despite those complaints, Louisiana is correct in its approach that units—and even individual lessons—will need to address multiple standards. The structure of the comprehension standards is less a detailed list of disparate items than an organized set of cognitive moves one might make in trying to understand a text. Students are to be taught to identify key ideas and details while reading, to analyze how an author conveyed those ideas, and to evaluate and connect/compare texts with other “texts.” While I don’t think it makes sense to try to instantiate each of the 10 comprehension items every time students read, it might make sense to instantiate at least one standard from each category during a close reading (that would require attention to at least three standards per lesson/text).

  Which standards to address will vary from text-to-text. But this variation should not be linked to some pacing guide or curriculum guidance. It should be linked to the specific texts or tasks students are engaged with. Individual standards will match better with some texts or reading circumstances. For example, if a unit includes only a single text, you might have the students evaluate it in some way, but you probably wouldn’t have them comparing it with other texts.

  But remember, not every lesson will be the focus of close reading. The idea of mixing in other readings/exercises/lessons in which students practice a particular comprehension strategy or analyze particular aspect of a text can be mixed in, too. Research shows that such lessons can bear fruit. While such analysis or practice is not included in the standards (because this analysis or practice is not an outcome), it can be an important avenue to ensuring that students reach the standards.

  As students read various texts across the school year, they will practice particular standards in varying combinations depending on the demands of the specific texts.


See what others have to say about this topic.

Anonymous Jun 19, 2017 10:26 PM


I have looked at Common Core units from Tennessee, Louisiana, Common, etc. I see value in all of them but after reading your response I am more confused than ever! What samples can you direct us to that would be good examples of how teachers should be implementing these new set of standards? What is the best practice?

Sharon Necaise Jun 19, 2017 10:27 PM


While I appreciate certain points of this critical review of the Louisiana CCSS ELA Year—Long Plans, I would like to expound on the idea of “overwhelming” lists of CCSS standard in each unit. Paramount to any discussion of these year-long plans is an intrinsic understanding of what they are and were designed to be: an example of a general plan for a year of instruction. The year-long plans were never designed to be a curriculum map with designated standards assigned to specific daily lessons. The year-long plans do not identify specific standards because we are leaving those decisions to teachers. Louisiana teachers are being empowered to make decisions about how to teach students rather than being given a set of scripted standards and mandated text. So the apparent exhaustive list of standards that were given for each unit were done so by design—so that the classroom teacher can make the key choice for his/her students.
To better conceptualize the method Louisiana is using to clarify to teachers how to integrate the specific standards as well as build student understanding across the units, please review the Unit 1 plans for each grade level. It is in these examples that teachers can really visualize the standards at work in their classrooms. From pacing guides to performance tasks that address specific standards, an example of quality planning is provided for each grade level.
I whole-heartedly agree that teachers must grasp the horizontal alignment of the standards, that there are only ten reading comprehension standards and that the ten writing standards are closely aligned to them. I believe the confusion lies in the transition from our former prescriptive “Comprehensive Curriculum” and the checklist of Grade Level Expectations that accompanied it. In Louisiana, we published the CCSS ELA Year-Long Plans as an idea, not a road map. We believe that once teachers intrinsically understand the standards they will forge their own way, writing their own curriculum with the standards, but also their own students in mind.

Sharon Necaise, contributor of the Louisiana 10th Grade ELA CCSS Year-Long Plan

Amy Deslattes, Louisiana Teacher Leader Jun 19, 2017 10:28 PM


As a teacher in Louisiana and a co-writer of one of the units, I’d like to offer further clarity on what exactly Louisiana has provided for teachers on its state website. It was through the design of these unit plans that I was able to see the results of CCSS in my own classroom. Before my unit plan ever went for revision, I had taught it in my classroom. For the first time, I was slowing the pace and going deeper into the material than ever before. My weaker students said that they felt they had an equal opportunity to be successful because the answers were always available in the text. They became experts at citing textual evidence, and they were able to make connections between anchor texts and supporting texts in ways that I hadn’t even recognized yet.
It seems that this question that has been posed to you is pondering the “possible” number of standards listed in the year-long scope and sequence for each level. In these samples, it was important for us as writers to link possible standards that could be met through the selected texts. It was never the intention that all possible standards be used in each and every unit within the scope and sequence, but instead offer teachers ideas of how flexible some text sets could be to allow autonomy within the classroom. Our goal was to provide a reference for teachers who would now be designing units of instruction specific to the needs of students in their classrooms. Additional samples of unit plans at each level were provided to teachers through the state website. These unit plans demonstrated how a text set from the scope and sequence could then be developed into a full unit using the backward design process. I think that you’ll find these unit plans are more specific in their use of standards to support specific pieces of text. Careful attention was also given to make sure that when multiple standards were identified in a lesson, they were linked and interwoven through the activity that would allow students to meet the standard. Integral trainings were offered to teachers throughout the state by means of a state Teacher Leader training. Every single school in the state was given the opportunity to send at least one teacher and several district support personnel to trainings that focused on shifts of instructional practices, using the sample plans as supporting material for teachers writing their own plans, and collaboration sessions for districts to make necessary curriculum decisions.
As we move forward with Common Core, we must come to the realization that there is no perfect curriculum out there. If there was, someone would be very wealthy based on the number of search engine hits for CCSS lessons in the last few weeks. Instead, we have to realize that the standards allow us to tailor instruction that is relevant and rigorous for the students we reach every day. Models, like the Louisiana scope and sequences and unit plans, help us to see all the possibilities available to us with Common Core.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 19, 2017 10:28 PM


Great. But if these are models you need to recognize that teachers are going to try to adhere to these models. When you list all the standards for a unit, teachers might assume they are to teach all the standards--not that they have maximum flexibility. The original question arose because teachers were confused by this approach and thought it looked like overkill--someone has to bite the bullet and decide for a particular set of lessons what combination of standards are to be the focus of those lessons; even if it is just an example, and other teachers might choose a different combination.

HelloLiteracy Jun 19, 2017 10:29 PM


Thank for all your insightful posts. I've heard you speak and think I know your position on Background Knowledge and Common Core "New Yorker" style book introductions. But was wondering if you could dedicate a post the term "Cold Reads" as referred to in the Common Core and address the arguments made by the teacher author of this article on the topic.

Thank you,
Jen Jones

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How Many Standards Should a Lesson Address?


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