Do you ever look at all your proficiency scales and feel overwhelmed? Not only do you have to cover 20-30 learning standards in each subject, but now you have 4 different levels to differentiate for? Did you know that you might get away with emphasizing just 5-6 standard scales for each subject all year, instead of 2 week units on each one? This doesn’t mean that you don’t teach every standard at some point; it means that you choose the most important learning objectives to reteach every day, week, or month. Imagine what a relief it would be to be able to see and review a handful of target goals that can stay on your bulletin board all year, instead of switching them out every few weeks. Imagine how much progress your students would make when they’re allowed to see and review the same care content all year? Your struggling students would have time for concepts to sink in, and your average kids would get tired of hearing it by the time testing season comes around. (That means they should ace those tests!) Is this really possible? Let me explain how, and then you can grab the cheat sheets I made for you!

Not All Standards are Created Equal

The truth is that not all of your standards are equally important. There are some concepts that you work on all year. Some big math concepts are place value, which students apply to multiple operations; or equality, which upper elementary and middle school students apply to converting ratios, measurements, and rational numbers. In Language Arts the biggest lower elementary concepts are decoding graphemes (letters, blends, word parts) to make meaning. Then they put together those graphemes into complete sentences to communicate their own meaning. Upper elementary emphasizes comprehending larger bodies of text (main ideas, text structures, text features) and then apply those organizational structures to communicate more complex meaning. These core skills and concepts make up huge portions of your standardized testing objectives. Your students perform best on standardized testing when they can master these big ideas. Other standards do not deserve equal time in the classroom because you will only teach it for 1-2 weeks, and your students will only encounter 1-2 testing questions about that objective. When it comes down to it, there are just a few key concepts and skills that you really need to emphasize and master thoroughly.

Emphasized Standards Last All Year

The key to choosing the most important learning objectives is to think about the big ideas that you use, repeat, and apply all year. Usually these learning standards are applied widely and possibly integrated into multiple units. For example, if you’re an upper elementary math teacher chances are your kids are starting to identify different kinds of numbers including whole numbers, decimals and fractions, and understanding how they’re different but also equal. Your students start to understand equality in different forms and there’s probably a lot of different ways they apply this knowledge throughout the year: adding and subtracting decimals, fractions, and percents. They look like different skills, but you’re applying the same concepts every single time you work with these numbers. Your standards related to these objectives are the ones that you want to post proficiency scales for and review all year.

Language arts is such a huge subject category that it would be wise to break this up and combine some domains if possible. Reading Literature and Reading Information are almost exactly the same standards except they’re applied in different contexts. It would be very easy to choose 3 – 6 from those domains that will just go together all year. Writing and Grammar are also huge categories, but may be simplified to some key skills that are applied to every writing genre, like knowing how to create a complete sentence structure and paragraphs. Lower elementary standards emphasize the foundational use of conventions, where as upper grade students are thinking more about organizing their ideas to create more complex meaning and communication.

Group discussion routines are a huge part of the Speaking and Listening standards because you will use them all year in multiple subject areas. Instead of spending one week teaching whole group discussion expectations and routines, post a scale and briefly review it every time you start a new group discussion.

Choosing the Right Standards to Emphasize

There’s so many things that you could spend time on in the classroom, it is uber important to prioritize! Save your own sanity and stress for your students by choosing the most important content to repeat and review through out the year. You will still have some of those quick 2 week units in your year, but your students will remember the biggest concepts when they get to testing.  You can usually choose 3 – 6 standards for each subject or domain, that you know you’re going to repeat and teach all year. Put time into creating really clear and carefully sequenced proficiency scales for those standards first. Your scale (ideally with examples) will form a picture to help you and your students focus on really mastering that core content. As soon as you feel distracted or overwhelmed, you have a visual reminder of what your priorities are. Of all the many things that you will actually teach throughout the year, your students will benefit the most from being able to focus and repeat those skills. Every time you see the scale you can connect what they already know to their new daily task. You will have a visual reminder for yourself and the students and what your emphasis is and then how they can apply that every day in their new activities.

  1. Examine your learning standards for your two core subjects, usually Math and ELA.
  2. Then choose one domain you know you will work on all year. (ELA – Reading Fiction & Nonfiction; Math – Numbers in Base Ten).
  3. Look for references in your strandards documents (or on your state education department website) that tell you which standards are emphasized. Post scales and examples for those learning objectives first.
  4. If you already know which standards are emphasized, create proficiency scales and examples for the ones you will teach most immediately (next week) and start with those.
  5. Plan to incorporate these skills into daily or weekly routines, such as vocab word games, math fact practice stations, writing checklists, or morning meeting topics. This will ensure that you are following up each major skill with tons of exposure! Routines are the easiest form of repetition!

Hopefully this approach to implementing proficiency scales will feel more manageable. Expecting yourself to use a complete set for every learning standard can be intimidating, and stifle your practice. It’s such a relief to pace yourself and create a solid routine of using scales before you have to worry about all of them!

I would love to hear if these ideas worked for you. I learn so much when teachers share their own classroom practices! Please leave a comment or feedback and share your wisdom.


“This has been so helpful to help students gain ownership of their learning.” – January 12, 2020

8th Grade ELA Posters with Learning Goals and Scales – Aligned to Common Core

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