EdCo teachers collaborate as a professional learning community to work together on assessment

Unpacking a Standard

Instructional Coach Amber Thienel helps unpack standards for the students and teachers at Freedom Middle School. This month\’s update from the CoOp Corner is chock-full of ideas you can use in your next team planning meeting or on your own reflecting on how to dig more deeply into the standards. Have you done work like this? Do you use Know/Understand/Do in your planning? Leave a comment or reach out with your thoughts and questions.

One of my roles a Math Instructional Coach for a middle school in Franklin is to help teachers understand the state standards better. So in our PLC (Professional Learning Community) meetings, we often focus on one standard that is coming up next in instruction. We do this by using a process called ‘unpacking the standard’.

The goal of unpacking the standard is to understand the standard well enough to create Learning Goals and Performance Goals. This will help with selecting and creating assessment questions which in turn will help guide instruction. Learning Goals describe what students should understand about a mathematics topic as an outcome of instruction. Performance Goals describe what we want students to say, write, show, or demonstrate as a result of the lesson. According to NCTM’s Taking Action Series (2017), mathematical learning goals should clearly state what it is students are to learn and understand about mathematics as the result of instruction; be situated within the learning progression; and frame the decisions that teachers make during a lesson.

When we are first looking at the standard and trying to decide on learning and performance goals, we find it helpful to use three different resources. The first resource we like to use is the standard progression. It is helpful to examine the standard from the previous grade level and the standard that will come in the next grade level. So for example, if we are looking at an 8th grade standard to unpack, we will read the 7th grade standard as well as the Algebra 1 standard.


The second resource we like to use is from the TN.gov/education website called the Instructional Focus Resource. According to the website these documents were created to “support strong classroom instruction.” The site goes on to say, “The purpose of these documents is to provide teachers with examples of learning across all performance levels to help educators determine the depth of a student’s conceptual understanding of the Tennessee mathematics standards.”

The final resource that we find helpful is actually a compiled list of as many assessment questions as we can find. I like to use questions from the TNReady Practice test, the released items, PARCC, Smarter Balance, and EngageNY. This gives us a wide range of test questions to help look at all the ways a particular standard could be assessed.

After participating in a Critical Friends Group protocol during the summer session of the Educators’ Cooperative, I created this template to help us focus and to help guide our discussion.


After reading the standard and the standard progression, teachers are encouraged to circle the verbs and underline the nouns and noun phrases. The verbs tell what the expectations are for the students. Verbs are the students’ observable behavior and let’s us know when the student has met the standard. The nouns and noun phrases that go along with that verb help us understand the intent of the standard better. Having teachers think about the “KUD” (Know, Understand, & Do from Tomlinson) helps us think about differentiated instruction. The “know” are facts, vocabulary, properties, and procedures. The “understand” are the concepts and ideas. The “do” are the tasks, approaches, and assessment problems.

The template has really helped us get away from only thinking about pre-requisite skills needed before a student can dive into learning the standard. We used to spend so much time thinking about what the students had to know from previous years that we often missed the point of the standard itself. I really owe a lot to my Critical Friends Group for the idea for the template.

After we are finished unpacking the standard, we are ready to create the end of unit assessment. We only use assessment questions that align with the learning goals and performance goals. There are many different ways to unpack a standard and create a solid assessment. This is just the way we are doing it at my school and we have found some success with this process.

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