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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 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:

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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 StandardsEnglish Language Proficiency, and Iowa Core Essential Elements.


The Department has also been asked to develop recommended standards in the following content areas: Computer ScienceFine ArtsPhysical 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.

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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.

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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.

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A Multi-tiered System of Support 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.

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Iowa Academic Standards Revision Process

A rigorous public input and review process is a crucial component of developing high-quality academic standards. In Iowa, the Iowa Department of Education (Department) follows Executive Order 83, which mandates a process for the citizenry to review and provide feedback on the Iowa Academic Standards on a continual basis. Therefore, the Iowa Academic Standards, both required and recommended, continually undergo public input, vetting and scrutiny before being officially recommended for adoption to the Iowa State Board of Education.

The Department has a four-phase comprehensive and rigorous process for regularly updating the state’s academic standards. They are:

Phase 1: Create a Draft Set of Revised Standards

This phase focuses on revising the existing standards. A standards revision team is established by application. The team then creates a draft standards document that is shared with the public for feedback.

Phase 2: Stakeholder Feedback

The draft revised standards are shared with the public and feedback is sought. Three forms of feedback are used. First, the Department distributes a survey to seek broad public feedback. Second, the Department hosts forums to allow open comments about the standards. Finally, the Department conducts focus groups with key stakeholders (e.g. administrators, professional organization leadership, teachers, etc.). All of the feedback data is then used to make adjustments to the standards.

Phase 3: Revise Standards Based on Feedback

A standards review team is established to examine the stakeholder feedback and make changes to the standards based on that feedback. A final draft of the standards is put together to take to the State Board for approval. 

Phase 4: State Board Approval

A report including the standards process and draft standards are brought before the state board for potential approval.

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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.

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The History of the Iowa Academic Standards

Model Core

The Iowa Core began with a legislative effort to set consistent expectations for high schools across the state. In 2005, the state legislature passed Senate File 245, which required the Department of Education to develop a set of expectations for high school students. The Department convened work teams of Area Education Agency consultants, Department content consultants, district curriculum directors, and teachers to identify the essential concepts and skills in the content areas of Literacy, Mathematics and Science. (For more information, see May 2006 Model Core Curriculum for Iowa High Schools Report to the State Board). Two years later, additional legislation was passed (Senate File 588 ) that extended the work to include kindergarten through eighth grade and added the content areas of social studies and 21st Century skills. (See April 2008 Iowa Core Curriculum Report to the State Board (2008-04-04))

Iowa Core

In 2008, the governor signed Senate File 2216 into law, which required full implementation of the Iowa Core by all public and accredited nonpublic schools. (See February 2009 Iowa Core Curriculum Report to the State Board (2009-02-11))

As Iowa worked to develop and implement the Iowa Core, a group of states, led by their education chiefs and governors, joined to develop a set of common standards in English/language arts and mathematics. These standards, called the Common Core State Standards, were designed with three principles in mind: the standards had to be based on evidence of college and career readiness, they had to have a focus to give teachers the time to teach and students the time to learn, and they had to maintain local flexibility and teacher judgment.

Drafts of the standards were released in November 2009 and a final draft was issued in June 2010.

In the spring of 2010, the Iowa State Board of Education began studying the Common Core State Standards. The State Board discovered much common ground and few differences between the Common Core standards and the Iowa Core in literacy and mathematics. Also, it had become clear there would be more resources developed and available to support teachers in implementing the Common Core State Standards. As a result, the State Board adopted the Common Core, which, with some information added specifically about essential concepts and skills, became the new content of the Iowa Core in literacy and mathematics.

Executive Order 83. In 2014, the governor penned Executive Order 83, which requires the Department to establish a cycle of review for the standards that must include public comment. The intent of this order was to ensure that Iowans, not the federal government, determine the content of Iowa’s standards. This also gives the Department authority to revise the standards to ensure they best meet the learning needs of Iowa’s students.

The first set of standards reviewed and revised was the Science Standards. In 2013, a team of science stakeholders was convened to determine if the set adopted by the State Board in 2007–2008 still met the needs of Iowa’s learning. The answer was a resounding “no,” and the group went on to endorse the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for adoption by Iowa. The State Board made it official, adopting the NGSS and making them the Iowa Core Standards in Science in 2015.

Since 2015, the Department has used this process to review and revise the Iowa Academic Standards. The intent of these reviews has been to provide Iowa teachers and students with high-quality comprehensive standards in each content area.

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