Indicators in the Nebraska content area standards scaffold student learning by sequencing connected knowledge and skills across grades so that students build and deepen understanding and ability over time. In other words, the content included in content area standards represents a learning progression that builds as students move through the educational system. Scaffolded standards help students make new connections with prior learning, support research-based learning progressions, and help teachers differentiate instruction for individual students.
Scaffolding the knowledge and skills that students learn through a careful sequence of indicators encourages them to make new connections with their prior learning. Previous studies illustrate that people learn by making such connections (Brown & King, 2000; Kostons & Werf, 2015) and that students are able to attain higher levels of understanding when they connect prior and new knowledge (Planas & Nelson, 2008; Vygotsky, 1978). When standards effectively scaffold student learning they reflect the relationship between categories of information that help students make connections and create the schema.
Indicators provide a clear progression—sometimes called “learning trajectories”—across grade levels and course sequences, and they provide guidance about how children learn specific knowledge and skills (Smith, Wiser, Anderson, & Krajcik, 2006). When appropriate, indicators should increase in complexity and depth over multiple grades to ultimately meet the level expected by the overarching standard statement. It is important that indicators never exceed the level of demand described in the standard, as the standard reflects the highest level required of all students.
To effectively scaffold student learning—or support students in attaining the goals identified in the overarching content standards—indicators differentiate specific knowledge and skills that students learn at different times. When indicators are virtually the same within two or more sequential grades or courses, they do not provide meaningful instruction or assessment information for teachers. For example, when indicators are duplicated rather than scaffolded, it becomes unclear whether the content’s first appearance in the standards is intended for introduction or for mastery, and whether its subsequent appearances in the standards are intended for mastery or for review. Content that is repeated without a clear indication of how the knowledge or skill builds in complexity increases the overall number of indicators, which tends to make standards documents unfocused and cumbersome.
Traditionally, indicators indicate the grade or course in which the knowledge or skill is intended to be mastered. However, teachers can determine that a student is performing at a higher or lower level in relation to a specific knowledge or skill by referring to the progression of learning described in the standards (Clements & Sarama, 2004). Teachers can then use the learning progression evident to scaffold and differentiate instruction, ensuring that each indicator is mastered by students before they move onto the next piece of knowledge or skill that builds on attained learning (Guskey, 2007).
This information, including the references mentioned above, was taken from NDE’s Content Area Standards Reference Guide.