Tips for Using the CSTA Standards

The Computer Science Teachers Association K-12 Computer Science Standards, released in 2017, delineate a core set of learning objectives designed to provide the foundation for a complete computer science curriculum and its implementation at the K–12 level. The CSTA Standards:

  • Present computer science at the secondary school level in a way that can fulfill a computer science, math, or science graduation credit.  
  • Encourage schools to offer additional secondary-level computer science courses that will allow interested students to study facets of computer science in more depth and prepare them for entry into the workforce or college.
  • The standards have been written by educators to be coherent and comprehensible to teachers, administrators, and policymakers. 
  • Each indicator is not an expectation of current knowledge, but instead a roadmap to help teachers from multiple entry points identify strengths and areas of need. 
  • They intend to provide a level of specificity that both offers sufficient guidance to novice CS teachers while allowing experienced CS teachers space for professional growth.
  • It is also intended that teachers be able to use this information to seek out targeted professional development opportunities to increase their mastery. 

In addition to standards for students, the CSTA has also developed standards for teachers.  ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) and the CSTA (Computer Science Teachers Association) have been working together for many years to advocate for effective computer science (CS) classes in schools across the U.S.  In 2019, the CSTA launched an effort to revise the Standards for CS Teachers in partnership with the ISTE.  These new standards are closely aligned to ISTE’s Computational Thinking Competencies, which were recently updated as well.  Since release, teams of volunteers have also created several resources to support implementation.  Start with their collection of Professional Development Opportunities!

Rather than downloading the PDF containing the standards, I recommend using their website to inform your planning whenever possible.  You can use the sorting tool on the page to reorganize the standards by concept, subconcept, or practices rather than simply seeing them set out by level.  Especially when you work with multiple grade levels, these views can present a much easier way to think things through.  

Their Progression Chart is also an excellent tool to plan standards-aligned lessons with, either online or on paper.  All the standards for K-12 are laid out in a color-coded grid on just two pages.

The italicized subtext beneath each standard further explains its scope and does a good job of clearing up ambiguity.  “I can” statements to post as objectives for your lessons are easily gathered from this section if the larger standard is too broad.  This section often gives examples of a project or two that would satisfy the requirements of the standard as well.

Looking at the same standard as it is written for the level above and/or below the one you intend to fulfill can pinpoint what specific skills you should focus on for that unit.  You can use the information as a guide to assessing what prerequisite skills your students may not have yet, and use the opportunity to shore up their understanding of computer science.

Overall, the CSTA Standards are really quite straightforward and intuitive to implement.  They offer a level of specificity that is very helpful in guiding your everyday teaching practice, and can be used alongside other programs such as the ISTE Standards.

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