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 was taken from NDE’s Content Area Standards Reference Guide.  The reference guide, including the references mentioned above, is located here.


By describing the knowledge and skills for student learning, content area standards help determine what students have learned and what they still need to learn. Standards provide benchmarks against which student progress toward learning goals can be measured. Thus, it is crucial that content area standards describe measurable content (Izumi, 1999). Content area standards which are generally stated may help introduce or frame the topics for student learning, but do not adequately help teachers plan instruction. Teachers need a clear sense of what students must know and be able to do in order to measure their progress. Likewise, high-quality area content standards must be constructed in a manner that allows students to demonstrate this knowledge and skill. When writing measurable content area standards, the following criteria are considered:

  • Purposeful verbs communicate clear expectations. The use of clear, actionable verbs within standards and indicators is necessary to ensure that they communicate the intended expectation for student learning (Landgon, 1999). Taxonomies of Learning, such as Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (Webb, 1997) and Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001), help categorize verbs into levels of cognitive difficulty, which can help standards writers ensure high levels of thinking.
  • Instructional strategies and learning opportunities are used to teach content area standards. They are not included in the content area standards. Content area standards highlight the knowledge and skills that instructional experiences are designed to teach, rather than describe the experience itself. Descriptions of how the learning experiences are designed are part of the curriculum and instructional decisions, which are made at the local level.
  • Content area standards create expectations for consistent assessment of student learning. In some cases, inconsistent measurement of a content area standard might result from language that describes degrees of performance (e.g., students begin to, or creatively perform a task) or how often students perform a skill (occasionally).

When no consistent baseline for performance is established, teachers do not share a common understanding of what “creatively” looks like or how often “frequently” represents. Such language is more appropriate for rubrics that describe multiple levels of performance. In cases when a skill is developed over multiple grade levels, content area standards should identify the prerequisite knowledge and skills that students need to learn before they can advance to a more complex skill.

This information was taken from NDE’s Content Area Standards Reference Guide.  The reference guide, including the references mentioned above, is located here.

Appropriately Challenging

Ensuring that content area standards are appropriately challenging is key when setting high expectations that are developmentally appropriate. Standards must build in complexity so that by the end of grade 12, students are prepared for postsecondary education and the workforce. At the same time, it must be considered that students—especially young children—develop skills and conceptual understandings at different rates (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2007). Indicators must be carefully sequenced to meet the rigor within the context of typical human development.

Standards and indicators outline the level of thinking that is appropriate for the content and expected developmental level. The degree of rigor in content area standards typically builds over time, yet even young children are capable of in-depth analysis of topics that are very familiar to them. When addressing the academic performance of U.S. students on international assessments, authors of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (Schmidt, McKnight, & Raizen, 1997) state that the U.S. “preoccupation with breadth rather than depth, with quantity rather than quality, probably affects how well U.S. students perform in relation to their counterparts in other countries” (p. 2). To avoid this pitfall, content area standards must identify only the content that is critical for students to learn, and students should be required to apply critical thinking to that content.

Moreover, content area standards often include a subset of process skills. These skills describe processes that students use to think critically, apply learning, solve problems, and conduct investigations or research. Mastery of these skills is associated with greater student engagement and higher academic achievement (Cobern, Schuster, Adams,, 2010; Harlen, 2000). Embedding process skills within standards and indicators ensures that these processes are considered when developing instructional strategies and practices. In Nebraska, process skills are often represented by the Nebraska Career Readiness Standards. The knowledge and skills within the Nebraska Career Readiness Standards are embedded within all content area standards highlighting a true intentionality to develop “college and career ready standards.”

In addition to the Nebraska Career Readiness Standards, content areas may have an articulated set of content-specific process skills essential to student learning and understanding. While there is substantial overlap between these content-specific process skills and the Nebraska Career Readiness Standards, some skills are unique. For example, in science, an essential skill is asking questions for science and defining problems for engineering. This skill aligns with the Nebraska Career Readiness Standard “Applies Appropriate Academic and Technical Skills” but is specific to science. As such, it is important that content area standards identify and articulate these content-specific skills within their standards.

This information was taken from NDE’s Content Area Standards Reference Guide.  The reference guide, including the references mentioned above, is located here.


Student learning is most effective when it connects knowledge and skills to related topics and real-world applications. A person truly comprehends new information by being able to “connect the new to the known” and determining the information’s importance (Keene & Zimmerman, 1997). Additionally, deeper understanding is developed when individuals are able to better process information when they connect new information to other knowledge or experiences (Beane, 1996; Brooks & Brooks, 1993). This deeper understanding develops when students make connections across content areas (Blumenfeld & Krajcik, 2006).

While many cross-content linkages will be made within the local curriculum, content area standards should support those connections. For example, science standards must not require students to apply mathematics skills that are not yet required by the math standards for the same grade or level. Similarly, literacy skills are required across all content areas. The literacy learning progression should be considered when developing standards in other content areas. For example, science standards may require students to write about scientific investigations. To support this learning expectation, the English Language Arts standards should include organizational patterns that students apply when producing informational-type writing products. Understanding the connections across content areas and the progression of knowledge and skills within a content area will allow standards writers to write content area standards that are connected to other content areas.

Embedding the knowledge and skills within the Nebraska Career Readiness Standards is also an effective way to make connections between content area standards and authentic workplace skills. These connections and links embed opportunities for students to develop career readiness skills while learning the knowledge and skills in content area standards (Share & Rogers, 1997).

This information was taken from NDE’s Content Area Standards Reference Guide.  The reference guide, including the references mentioned above, is located here.

Structure of Content Area Standards


Nebraska has content area standards in a wide variety of subjects. While these standards have unique characteristics that capture aspects particular to each subject area, the standards have a consistent structure that allows educators, parents, and students to easily make sense of their organization. This is particularly advantageous at the elementary level, as this consistent organizing structure allows teachers to move seamlessly across content area standards when creating lessons and units that address more than one subject area.

To ensure that the standards for each content area are well-organized and internally coherent, NDE articulates a construct that guides the overall structure of the content area standards across subjects. While not all of the state’s content standards documents currently reflect this two-tier structure, the scheduled standards’ updates will result in the consistent formatting of all standards documents:


At the highest level of generality, Nebraska’s content area standards include a set of broad, overarching content-based statements that describe the basic cognitive, affective, or psychomotor expectations of students. They reflect long-term goals for learning.


Under each standard are indicators, which further describe what a student must know and be able to do to meet the standard. Indicators are performance-based statements that provide educators with a clear understanding of the expected level of student learning and guidance. Indicators provide guidance for an assessment of student learning.

This information was taken from NDE’s Content Area Standards Reference Guide.  The reference guide, including the references mentioned above, is located here.

History of Content Area Standards

What Are Content Area Standards?

Content area standards reflect the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn in a given content area.  Because these standards create a framework for teaching and learning, they articulate a trajectory for knowledge acquisition across all grade levels so student learning builds on prior knowledge, becoming more in-depth over time.  By setting clear benchmarks for learning, content area standards provide guidance to teachers as they develop learning experiences.  Additionally, these standards allow teachers to highlight students’ progress towards learning goals, rather than relying on predetermined time and schedule factors (Rubin & Spady, 1984).

How Did Content Standards Develop?

Standards-based education (also known as outcome-based education) has many roots, but the modern push to define what all students should know and be able to do began in the U.S. during the 1970s. During this era, an agenda for “back-to-basics” and minimum competency testing pushed educators to define measurable learning targets required of all students (Raizen, 1998). These initial efforts to define content-specific expectations were led by teachers and local school districts. Eventually, national organizations dedicated to the teaching of specific content areas began to identify content area standards.  The first notable set of national content area standards was published in 1989 by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. These standards emphasized conceptual understanding and mathematical sense-making and were developed as a backlash to the algorithmic focus of the “back-to-basics” movement. The publication of these national mathematics standards influenced the development of other K–12 content area standards by state-level departments of education, school districts, and other subject-specific organizations (Ferrini-Mundy, 1998).

For two decades, states and school districts across the U.S. have identified content area standards to guide teaching and learning, with nearly every state and local school district adopting a standards-based education system by the year 2000 (Marran 2001; Tucker and Codding 1998).  Content-specific teacher organizations, the National Science Foundation, and the National Governors Association have all published sets of standards that serve as guideposts for state departments of education and writers of local standards and curriculum. While content area standards have many names (e.g. benchmarks, outcomes, goals, expectations, indicators, etc.), all are designed to make clear what knowledge and skills are most important for students to learn in a given content area.

 This information was taken from NDE’s Content Area Standards Reference Guide.  The reference guide, including the references mentioned above, is located here.

Content Area Standards

Nebraska Revised Statute 79-760.01 requires the Nebraska State Board of Education to “adopt measurable academic content standards for at least the grade levels required for statewide assessment.” Those standards shall cover the subject areas of reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies, and the State Board of Education shall develop a plan to review and update standards for those subject areas every seven years.

In addition to the content area standards required by statute, the Nebraska Department of Education has developed content area standards for fine arts, physical education, health education, and world languages, as well as course-based standards for Career and Technical Education. Although not required by law, these content area standards provide a framework for quality teaching and learning for all content areas.

A Content Area Standards Revision Timeline has been developed and includes a tentative timeline for the review and revision of all content area standards.  The timeline includes the following assumptions:

  • The review and revision of content area standards will be completed by the end of the seven-year cycle.
  • The review and revision process may take up to 1.5 years to complete.
  • Most review and revision processes will begin in the fall and be completed by the following fall.
  • Pursuant to Nebraska Revised Statute 79-7601.02, school districts will have one year to adopt the state-approved content area standards or adopt content area standards deemed as equal to or more rigorous than the state-approved content area standards for reading and writing (English Language Arts), mathematics, science, and social studies.
  • School districts are encouraged to adopt the state-approved standards in other content areas (fine arts, physical education, health education, and world languages) within one year of being adopted by the State Board of Education.
  • Career and Technical Education content area standards will be reviewed and revised on a five-year cycle in order to remain current with occupational demands/standards.

Standards Revision Timeline Chart for All Content Areas

Download the Standards Revision Timeline for all content areas.  If you have questions or need more information, please contact Dr. Cory Epler, Chief Academic Officer (

Content Area Standards (NeSA Tested)

English Language Arts

On September 5, 2014, the Nebraska State Board of Education adopted Nebraska’s College and Career Ready Standards for English Language Arts.

Other formats and the 2009 Nebraska ELA Standards are located on the English Language Arts Webpage.


On September 4, 2015, the Nebraska State Board of Education adopted Nebraska’s College and Career Ready Standards for Mathematics.

Other formats and the 2009 Nebraska Mathematics Standards are located on the Mathematics Education Webpage.


On September 8, 2017, the Nebraska State Board of Education approved Nebraska’s College and Career Ready Standards for Science.

Other formats are located on the Science Education Webpage.

Content Area Standards (Non-NeSA Tested)

Fine Arts

On March 4, 2014, the Nebraska State Board of Education adopted the Nebraska Fine Arts Standards.

Other formats are located on the Fine Arts Education Webpage.

Physical Education

On October 7, 2016, the Nebraska State Board of Education adopted the Nebraska Physical Education Standards.

The 2006 Nebraska Physical Education Essential Learnings are located on the Physical Education Webpage. The Health Education Standards and the Nebraska State Board of Education Policy for Coordinated School Health, are located on the Coordinated School Health Webpage.

Social Studies

On December 7, 2012, the Nebraska State Board of Education approved the Nebraska Social Studies Standards.

Other formats are located on the Social Studies Education Webpage.

World Languages

In 1996, the Nebraska World Language Essential Learnings were developed.

Other information is located on the World Language Education Webpage.

Career Education Programs of Study and Career Field Course Standards

Career Education Programs of Study and Course Standards are located on the Career Education Standards Webpage. This includes Programs of Study and Course Standards within the following Career Fields:

  • Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources
  • Business, Marketing, and Management
  • Communication and Information Systems
  • Health Sciences
  • Human Sciences and Education
  • Skilled and Technical Sciences

In November 2017, the Nebraska State Board of Education approved content area standards for the following Career Fields. These standards will be linked from the Career Education Standards Website in the Summer of 2018.

English Language Proficiency Standards

In 2013, the Nebraska State Board of Education adopted the Nebraska English Language Proficiency (ELP) Standards. The ELP Standards highlight the critical language, knowledge about language, and skills using language that are necessary for English Language Learners (ELLs) to be successful in school.

Other information regarding the ELP Standards and the ELPA 21 Assessment is located on the Title III Homepage.