Key Questions

1. What was the Chicago plan for standards implementation?

2. Did students’ reports of instruction in math and science classes change with implementation of the standards?

3. Which implementation supports were associated with greater use of standards-aligned instructional practices?

4. Were standards-aligned instructional practices related to learning gains?

5. What did teachers say were barriers to instructional change, and what was helpful for changing practice?


The Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSS-M) were released in 2010 with a goal to improve critical thinking skills and prepare all students to thrive in college, careers, and as informed citizens. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) followed in 2013. Most states across the country adopted the standards, which brought ambitious new targets for both students and teachers, but there has been little evidence about whether instructional practices improved.

This study provides a summary of what happened in one district—Chicago Public Schools (CPS)—as district staff and educators worked to promote change in instructional practices in math and science aligned with the new standards.  Researchers used districtwide student and teacher surveys; interviews with educators, school leaders, and district officials; and student achievement data between 2014–15 and 2017–18.

While CCSS-M and NGSS standards were the focus of this study, the findings are broadly relevant to standards-driven instructional change.

Key Findings

  • Math and science instruction improved in Chicago during the years of standards reform, based on student survey reports of their classroom experiences from before and after standards reform.
  • Instructional practices mattered for student achievement: In schools where students and teachers reported frequently using standards-aligned practices in their math and science classes, there were stronger gains on assessments than in schools where few students or teachers reported frequent use of standards-aligned practices.
  • The largest improvements in mathematics instruction and learning gains were for students with the lowest tested math scores, who were least likely to be in classes with strong instructional practices prior to standards implementation.
  • Professional learning—defined broadly to include teacher collaboration, coaching, and workshops—was the most important support strategy for instructional change.
  • Instructional resources provided by the district were helpful for implementing strong practices when they were instruction-ready and tied to professional learning around instructional practices, while other instructional resources showed a null or negative relationship with practices.