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Curriculum standards: What are educational standards and curricula?

By Hannah Haase on September, 10 2020

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Hannah Haase

Born and raised in Germany, Hannah started learning English as a Second Language in 5th grade and French in 7th grade. After completing her Master’s in Education, ESL, and History at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, she moved to the United States to become a teacher at the Milwaukee German Immersion School and a professor at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. She is now a content creator, blog author, and pedagogical mentor at Robotel.

The word "standard" has been one of those buzzwords in education in the past couple of years. Standard-based grading, standard-based assessment, standard-based learning...Let's take a look at what exactly curriculum standards are, how they are different from a curriculum and, lastly, where the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) fits into all of this.

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Table of contents:

1. Introduction: Standard-based everything

2. Curriculum standards vs. curriculum

3. The CEFR: The proficiency levels and "Can-Do" statements

4. Conclusion



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1. Introduction: Standard-based everything

The word "standard" has been one of those buzzwords in education in the past couple of years. Standard-based grading, standard-based assessment, standard-based learning...They have basically added the prefix "standard-based" to any education-related word. As teachers, you might be sick and tired of all the new reforms and standards. However, if done correctly (and without rolling out a new reform every other year!), curriculum standards are extremely helpful for teachers, students, and parents. Let's take a look at what exactly standards are, how they are different from a curriculum and, lastly, where the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) fits into all of this.


2.Curriculum standards vs. curriculum

  • Educational curriculum standards are learning goals of what students should know and be able to do at each grade level.

In the US, many states and school districts have implemented the Common Core State Standards. In 2009, this initiative was brought forward to standardize learning standards across the US and to equally prepare students for college and careers. The first Common Core initiative laid out common goals for what students should know by the time they graduate high school, and in a second initiative, standard expectations were created for all grades, elementary through high school.

However, these standards are NOT a curriculum. The standards only define the learning goals, the WHAT a student should know at a certain level.

  • A curriculum is developed by teachers/schools/teams and lays out HOW the teacher is ensuring the students learn the material.

Every teacher is responsible to put together the curriculum for their teaching by choosing materials, methodology, and timeline, as long as they ensure that the students reach the (common, standardized) goal by the end of the year. Most countries, states, and school districts have specific books and materials they approve for each subject, and for your main teaching purposes, you will have to choose something from these approved lists.

curriculum standards


3. The CEFR: The proficiency levels and "Can-Do" statements


CEFR stands for “Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment.” It was developed by the Council of Europe between 1989 and 1996 to provide a method for learning, teaching, and assessing all languages across Europe. It's now also used in many other countries all over the world. 

curriculum standards

curriculum standards


The CEFR lays out three main proficiency levels for students:

A-level: The A-level describes the basic learner and user of a language.

B-level: These are independent users of a language.

C-level: Advanced learners are in C-level courses.

Each level is divided into 2 sub-levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2) and “Can-Do” statements simplify assessment for teachers and learners alike. 

Just like standards, the "Can-Do" statements simply explain WHAT a student has to know and be able to do to get to the next level. It's up to teachers and institutions to lay out the HOW (curriculum).

The image below shows the “Can-Do” statements for the CEFR for each level. A Can-Do statement is helpful for both students and teachers to evaluate where a student is at in his/her learning process. For each level (beginner through proficiency) there are statements for each skill (reading, writing, listening, speaking) that a student has to master in order to move on. These statements are similar to standards, but also very important for the student self-evaluation and reflection. 


curriculum standards


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Depending on where you live, what language you teach, if you are in a private, charter, or public school setting, you might all have to follow different standards and have different expectations for your students. But whether your school follows the Common Core, CEFR, or any other learning standards, the good news it: you are still somewhat free to choose HOW you want to teach! You can decide which materials/curriculum you want to use, and which methodology you see fitting your students. Even though many schools and districts have certain lists of approved materials, you are free to supplement with worksheets, games, and other activities besides the main textbook. The value of these supplemental materials, that we all probably create on a daily basis for our students, is HUGE! Personally, I think that's how you really connect with your students and become a great teacher!

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Do you have a resource, standard, curriculum you'd like to share with fellow English/language teachers and learners? Share your ideas in the comments below and find inspiration from others! We are all in this together and many hands make light work :)

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Hannah Haase
(Language Teacher, Textbook Co-Author, Pedagogical Mentor)


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