Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

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Grounded in learning science research, future ready curriculum, instruction, and assessment begin with involved and innovative leadership teams who provide conditions and support for educators and learners to utilize data to create learner-centered approaches for academic content design, instruction, and assessment.

Educators customize instruction and student experiences by leveraging a variety of robust and adaptive technologies, tools, pedagogies, and resources to ensure relevance and deep understanding of complex issues and topics. Access to multi-modal, multi-format, and multi-sourced high-quality academic content greatly improves learner experience and promotes equitable academic exposure.

Educators employ current and emerging technologies to improve pedagogy and better design content for learner variability. Technology-enhanced instruction creates opportunities to provide multiple perspectives on and around content, engage locally and globally with peers and experts, personalize learning for students, and encourage learner reflection of their own work and that of others. Moreover, future ready educators are able to assess levels of understanding more fully as learners leverage technology to offer multiple pathways to demonstrate and deliver learning outcomes.

Currently, many K–12 schools are designed with the assumption that students have safe, secure, and healthy homes. Unfortunately, quite the opposite is true for a staggering number of students. Nearly 1.36 million children went to school in 2017 without knowing where they would sleep at night, and many students find themselves serving as a primary caregiver to siblings, working to contribute economically, or suffering from dangerous circumstances and situations.

Regardless of socioeconomic status, all students need cognitive and social-emotional skills to both engage and thrive in school. Without explicit prioritization and intentional integration of these skills with academic development and standards, many students are left disengaged, disenchanted, and, potentially, disregarded. As K. Brooke Stafford-Brizard noted in Building Blocks for Learning: A Framework for Comprehensive Student Development, these marginalized students

become dependent on adult-driven procedures and routines rather than their own skills and motivation. To deliver the education all students deserve—one that prepares them for the lives they choose—the U.S. education system must address the essential elements of student development beyond academics. When students matriculate through K–12 without the skills necessary to engage in learning, they can’t process the vast amount of instruction that comes their way each day and it becomes daunting, if not impossible, to stay on track. This is the achievement gap.

With the growing awareness of student’s need for cognitive and social-emotional skills, many schools are incorporating elements of mindfulness and social-emotional learning (SEL) into their school days. Unfortunately, these skills often are taught in isolation, removed from the academic content that they support. This kind of isolation results in minimal overall impact.

Best-practice instructional design includes modeling, scaffolding, and applying; similarly, content design encourages foundational understanding as a prerequisite to synthesis and higher-order processing. In these ways, academic development is no different from behavioral, social, emotional, and cognitive development.

Core to developing each of these skills is establishing trusting relationships. Rita Pierson reminds us that “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” And while a student’s affection for her teacher might not entirely drive academic performance, there is a preponderance of research indicating that trust is a catalyst for creating an effective learning environment.

For effective teaching and learning to occur, school leaders and educators must establish systems, programs, and instruction that create student-centered, active learning experiences that meet a wide range of individual differences. Practical implications of findings from learning and human development research should consistently inform how educators leverage evidence-based practices to address language learning, literacy, and mathematics. Educators must also be aware of how emotions and overall well-being can impede or assist learning.

Highlighted Resources


Implementation Guides



  • Which skills do we need to foster for every child to be successful in school, including
    • cognitive skills;
    • social-emotional skills; and
    • mindset and regulation skills?
  • How are these skills taught? Where are we missing opportunities?
  • How are these skills intertwined with academic skills?
  • What role and impact does adversity have on the acquisition of these skills?