Project to Update Washington’s Learning Standards Focuses on Preparing Students for the Future

Media Contact

Katy Payne she/her

With a kickoff in fall 2022, Washington’s project to review the state learning standards has focused on bringing along many partners involved in a child’s education, from their teachers to their future employers.

Learning standards define what students should know and be able to do in each academic subject by the end of the school year. During his annual address in January 2024 on the state of public education in Washington, State Superintendent Chris Reykdal called the project one of this year’s “massive innovations.”

“A lot changes in time, and you’ve got to constantly innovate,” Reykdal said.

Washington state law (RCW 28A.655.070) requires the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to “periodically revise the state learning standards, as needed, based on student learning goals.” These student learning goals, also defined in state law, call on Washington’s public school system to “evolve and adapt” to strengthen student educational achievement.

Washington’s learning standards for English language arts (ELA), mathematics, and science have not been updated in a decade or more and are due for review. Below, find updates on the work accomplished so far for the project to review the learning standards, including a glimpse of the updates to the ELA, math, and science standards.

The Project So Far

In February 2023, OSPI sent a survey to all ELA, math, and science teachers, as well as librarians, across Washington to ask for feedback on the learning standards. Thousands replied.

Since reviewing the survey responses, OSPI’s subject matter experts in ELA, math, and science have been updating the learning standards to be clearer and more streamlined. These teams have also been selecting priority standards that identify essential learning at each grade level, which will create more equitable access to essential learning for all students across the state.

In November 2023, OSPI invited a panel of experts from various professional fields to share the most important knowledge, skills, and abilities that they are seeking in future employees, as well as the gaps they see in the abilities of the young people they’re currently hiring. The experts who participated on these panels represented organizations including Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing, Washington State Patrol, McKinstry, Providence St. Peter Hospital, and the Seattle Times.

It’s “exciting” to “have a lot of voices in the room,” said Kara Todd, Special Projects and Assessment Coordinator at OSPI and one of the coordinators of the project to review the learning standards. “They are contributing to the process.”

Updates to the Learning Standards

Across ELA, math, and science, much of the state learning standards will continue to stick to national learning standards: the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) define learning in ELA and math, and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) define learning in science. The focus of the updates is on defining the standards clearly and making them more relevant to today’s learners.

In ELA, the CCSS structures learning into four strands: reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language. Washington’s updated ELA standards will revise the third strand to include speaking, listening, and digital forms, and will add a fifth strand for research and media literacy. This fifth strand will support students in learning to navigate digital media and fact-check information.

These updates reflect the increasingly digital world that students live in. Maja Wilson, ELA Assessment Specialist at OSPI, said it’s important for students to be able to assess the purposes and intentions behind the messages they encounter across various media.

“When educators teach students to comprehend, interpret, analyze, and create [digital] media messages in the updated standards, they won’t be doing something completely separate from teaching students to comprehend, interpret, analyze, and compose written and oral genres,” Wilson said.

In math, the updated state learning standards will continue to align with CCSS, with the addition of learning standards for data science – a field that uses statistics, algorithms, and other mathematic processes to find patterns in and make meaning of data. Laura Grant, Associate Director of Elementary Mathematics at OSPI, said those standards will rely on the American Statistical Association’s guidelines for teaching data science.

“Including data science standards not only enriches math education by connecting real-life experiences with tangible learning opportunities, but also fosters curiosity and authentically integrates content,” Grant said. “We want students to learn that math goes beyond numbers and formulas on a page. It’s a part of the world they interact with every day.”

In science, the state’s learning standards will be little changed from NGSS. Johanna Brown, Associate Director of Secondary Science Education at OSPI, said the “beauty” of NGSS is that they ask students not just to know science content, but also to practice critical thinking.

One goal for the updated learning standards in science, she added, is using the state’s natural environment as examples in science learning.

“We’re really working in the standards to say, if you can, let’s not teach about this lizard in Arizona,” Brown said. “Do we have some examples about this pod of whales? Or about these marmots? Or about this certain kind of grass that we know only grows in the northwest?”

Along with a focus on clarification, all the updated learning standards will have companion documents designed to help teachers implement the learning standards. These companion documents include frameworks for teachers to design their instruction to meet the needs of multilingual/English learners and use universal design for learning (UDL) principles, which help make instruction accessible for students with disabilities.

Coming Up Next

In the coming months, OSPI is inviting nearly 100 teachers from across the state to participate in focus groups where they’ll review and give feedback on the drafts of the updated learning standards documents. OSPI is also connecting with more partners, including Washington’s nine regional educational service districts (ESDs), for additional feedback on the standards documents. In August, OSPI will present the drafts of the updated learning standards for public review and comment.

The updated learning standards are slated for adoption by Superintendent Reykdal in December, and teachers will engage in professional learning about the new standards before they’re implemented in schools starting in 2026.

“Part of OSPI’s job is to equip teachers to give them the things that they need to do their job better,” Todd said. “We want the work that we do with this project to unpack the standards for them so that districts can spend their professional learning time on, ‘How do we get kids engaged in this? How do we apply this to real life?’”

For More Information


Chelsea Embree