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Student Standards


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A Common Set of Expectations For Students, Districts

A great educational system begins with a clear and rigorous set of standards that educators use to help ensure that all students are college, career, and citizen ready. Standards provide a set of common expectations for school districts across the state. Iowa has two types of standards: program standards and academic standards.

Iowa Program Standards

Program standards are criteria for the quality of, and conditions for, district and school programs. In Iowa, program standards include, but are not limited to: Iowa Quality Preschool Program Standards, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, and Talented and Gifted.

Iowa Academic Standards

Academic and learning standards are clear and rigorous expectations that educators use to help ensure that all students are college, career, and citizen ready. Standards provide a set of common expectations for school districts across the state. These standards include the Iowa Early Learning Standards, Iowa Core Standards, Iowa Core Essential Elements, Iowa English Language Proficiency Standards, career and technical education standards, and recommended standards in the areas of fine arts and computer science.

Some Academic Standards Are Required, Others Are Not

Iowa Core -

All students in Iowa are required to learn the Iowa Core Standards, also known as the Iowa Academic Standards. Content areas included in the are English/Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, 21st Century Skills, and the Universal Constructs.

Special Populations

Several sets of standards are required for special populations of students. Those include the Early Learning Standards, English Language Proficiency, and Iowa Core Essential Elements.


The Department has also been asked to develop recommended standards in the following content areas: Computer ScienceFine Arts, Physical Education and Health Education. These standards are recommended but not required for districts to use in developing curriculum in Grades K-12.

Career and Technical Education

To be eligible for Perkins funding, districts must follow academic standards put forth for the CTE program area.

Iowa Academic Standards Are High Quality

Because the Iowa content standards provide the framework that guides instructional decisions at the local level, their quality is very important. Throughout the standards adoption process, the Iowa Department of Education ensures that standards meet these expectations: are measurable, focused, challenging, synchronized, connected, and specific.


Standards provide yearly expectations against which student progress toward learning goals can be measured. Teachers need a clear sense of what students must know and be able to do in order to measure their progress. Content area standards support consistent assessment of student learning across schools and districts.


The Iowa Academic Standards are aimed at preparing students for the rigorous challenges in postsecondary education and careers. They demonstrate priorities about the concepts and skills that are required learning in our K-12 system. These are the minimal expectations all students are required to know and able to do.


Standards must build in complexity so that by the end of high school, students are prepared for post-secondary education and the workforce. Standards outline the level of thinking that is appropriate for the content and expected developmental level. At the same time, it must be considered that students develop skills and conceptual understandings at different rates.


In Iowa, standards are synchronized across grade levels and spans. The concepts and skills required across disciplines are coordinated so students are not required to know information in one discipline not yet learned in another. For example, in learning a science standard, students would not be asked to perform a mathematics concept not yet learned.


Student learning of content standards is most effective when it is relevant, connecting knowledge and skills to real-world applications in preparation for careers and civic life. The universal constructs (such as critical thinking and being able to effectively collaborate) and 21st Century Skills transcend content disciplines to focus on the skills students will need to succeed in life. The universal constructs were identified following an analysis of the competencies and habits of mind needed for future success in careers, college and citizenry: critical thinking, complex communication, creativity, collaboration, flexibility and adaptability, productivity, and accountability. The Iowa Legislature established the Iowa 21st century skills as civic literacy, employability skills, financial literacy, health literacy, and technology literacy. To ensure students are college and career ready in Iowa, student mastery of the Iowa Academic Standards, including skills, content, concepts, and application, are necessary.


The Iowa Academic Standards are precise and provide enough detail to set the level of performance expected without being overly prescriptive.

Standards, Curriculum: Complementary But Not the Same

Curriculum can be divided into four categories: intended, enacted, assessed, and learned.

Intended curriculum is the knowledge and skill targets for the enacted curriculum, often captured in Iowa’s Academic and Learning Standards or other similar documents.

Enacted curriculum is the knowledge and skills actually delivered during instruction in the classroom and other learning settings and how it is taught.

Assessed curriculum is the knowledge and skills that are assessed to determine achievement.

Learned curriculum is the knowledge and skills students actually acquire.

The Iowa Academic Standards set expectations for students to learn within a local curriculum. These standards describe the content, skills, and concepts that students should learn, but they do not prescribe particular curriculum such as lessons, instructional materials, teaching techniques, or activities. The local curriculum describes how educators will teach students the standards. Decisions about curriculum and instruction are made locally by individual school districts, leadership, and teachers. The Iowa Department of Education does not mandate the curriculum used within a local district or school.

MTSS Helps Students Learn The Standards

A multi-tiered system of support, or MTSS, is designed to help all students learn the Iowa Academic Standards and be appropriately challenging. It is a decision-making framework of evidence-based practices in instruction and assessment that addresses the needs of all students. To be effective, screeners, progress monitors, formative assessment, and summative assessments should be aligned to the Iowa Academic Standards. Read detailed information about MTSS in Iowa.

Iowa Academic Standards Revision Process

Implementation Resources For The Academic Standards

Implementation Plans

Implementation of standards is a multi-year process beginning with awareness and exploration and ending with ensuring all students have the opportunity to learn the standards. Depending on the extent of the changes in the standards and the related instructional shifts, it is not uncommon for the beginning stages (exploration, installation, and initial implementation) to take three or four years, with full implementation taking additional time. Districts will be in full implementation when all aspects of curriculum, instruction and assessment are designed to ensure equitable opportunities so that all students meet all standards. This process is described in an implementation created by the Iowa Department of Education in collaboration with the appropriate content leadership teams. This plan describes the roles of various stakeholders (students, teachers, teacher leaders, districts, AEAs, external partners of the Department of Education) in the process. These plans are developed for the Iowa Core subjects. Examples of science and social studies are available.

Instructional Shifts

To put the standards into practice, the place to begin is attending to the major shifts in instruction and learning that the new or revised standards will compel. These shifts should guide all aspects of implementing the standards: professional development, instructional design, assessment, and curriculum. When educators attend to core shifts in each content area, the expectations for teaching and learning will be clear, consistent, and tightly aligned to the goals of the standards.

Parent Guides

Parents and guardians play an important role in supporting their children’s success in learning the standards. The Department has created parent guides for students in K-12 in the areas of English/Language Arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and 21st Century Skills. These guides are available in both English and Spanish versions. Adult supports are included as a component of the Iowa Early Learning Standards.

Communications and Instructional Resources

To support educators in continual improvement, the Department of Education has developed many resources, networks, and communication tools. The website has the required standards plus many resources for instruction, assessment, and professional learning in the core content areas.

The History of the Iowa Academic Standards