The Relationship Between State and District Content Standards:Issues of Alignment, Influence and Utility


  • Elizabeth Dutro Cleveland State University
  • Sheila Valencia University of Washington



At the core of standards-based reform are content standards--statements about what students should know and be able to do. Although it is state standards that are the focus of much public attention and consume substantial resources, many local school districts have developed their own content standards in the major subject areas. However, we know very little about the role state standards have played in local standards efforts. In this article we report on a study of the relationship between state and local content standards in reading in four states and districts. Through interviews with key personnel in each state, and district and analyses of state and local content standards in reading, we explored the alignment between state and district content standards, the path of influence between the two, and the role of high-stakes tests in state and districts reform efforts. Our findings suggest that alignment had multiple meanings and that state standards had differential utility to districts, ranging from helpful to benign to nuisance. This wide variability was influenced by the nature of the standards themselves, the state vision of alignment and local control, districts’ own engagement and commitment to professional development, and student performance on high-stakes tests. We explore implications for the future of content standards as the cornerstone of standards-based reform and argue that states must promote district ownership and expand accountability if state content standards are to have any relevance for local efforts to reform teaching and learning.


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Author Biographies

Elizabeth Dutro, Cleveland State University

Elizabeth Dutro is Assistant Professor of Literacy at Cleveland State University, where she teaches courses in literacy theory and methods. Her research includes studies of children’s literacy practices and social identities in urban classrooms and neighborhoods, as well as analyses of standards-based reforms, particularly the development, nature and use of content standards in literacy.

Sheila Valencia, University of Washington

Sheila W. Valencia is Professor of Language, Literacy and Culture and Chair of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Washington, Seattle where she teaches and does research on classroom assessment, assessment policy, and professional development of teachers. She has served on several national task forces and worked with state departments of education, school districts, and schools across the country on issues related to literacy assessment and effective literacy instruction.




How to Cite

Dutro, E., & Valencia, S. (2004). The Relationship Between State and District Content Standards:Issues of Alignment, Influence and Utility. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 12, 45.