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The Importance of Critical Standards in Remote Learning

As schools throughout the nation have closed their doors, some for the rest of the month and others for the rest of the year, schools and districts have been faced with the task of determining how to provide instructions to instructions remotely. Some states have provided more clarity than others, but distance learning looks different between states and districts and even across schools in the same district. For stakeholders at every level of education, from superintendents to students, this is a dramatic new “normal”. To ensure that distance learning is implemented as well as can be, we need to ensure that they have the necessary support and guidance to transition to this new type of learning.

To help teachers navigate this new terrain, State Boards of Education, such as those in Illinois, Kansas, and California, have provided guidelines for remote learning, which include recommendations for parent communication, grading, and lesson delivery. These guidelines help teachers understand what the expectations of distance learning are and how to continue some of their regular job functions moving forward. The guidelines also mention the importance of focusing instruction on critical standards, a term given to describe the most foundational academic standards in each subject and grade level, but stops short of stating what those standards should be. Instead, determining critical standards is left to educators at the school and district levels.

For some teachers, especially those who are the only content area teacher at their grade and subject level, determining critical standards may seem like a daunting task, especially in this time when they are already overwhelmed familiarizing themselves with a new type of instruction. Some districts and states have recommended that teachers should not move forward with new learning but should emphasize the retention of skills and standards previously taught, but again left the identification of critical standards to educators.

While it may be tempting to power forward with new learning at the same pace as during face-to-face instruction, it is critical to be aware of the challenges students may be facing in their home environments.  For instance, some students may have limited or no internet access, others may be working full-time or caring for siblings, and many students have to deal with the stress of being in a home that has been impacted financially. Another unfortunate reality is that our students or their family members may also become ill during this time.

This is why it is so important to ensure instruction and learning is targeted on critical standards. In a world where the daily life of a student or teacher looks nothing like it did a month ago, our educators need support and guidance to ensure they are well-equipped to provide the most high-quality instruction possible, and that their students are continuing to learn the foundational skills they need to build their learning over time. As states and districts continue to support educators with new resources, materials and guidance, they must also think about providing support to help teachers identify the critical standards in each subject.


Jennifer Smith is a National Board-Certified Teacher and currently teaches 8th grade science at Monticello Middle School where she also sponsors the science club and oversees the STEM lab. She also teaches middle school language arts and geography online for Illinois Virtual School. Jennifer holds a BA in Elementary Education and an MS in Education from Eastern Illinois University as well as an MS in English from Illinois State University. She was a 2014-2015 Illinois Teacher of the Year Finalist, the 2016 Illinois Middle School STEM Teacher of the Year, and the 2019 AACT Middle School Chemistry Teacher of the Year.