US Terminology and Curriculum

US Terminology and Curriculum

US Schools Terminology and Curriculum

Like every educational system, the US system has its own jargon that teachers who are interviewing for jobs need to know. The basic constructs of an education system often universal but the words used to describe it can vary.   Below are some definitions / translations you should be aware of before your interview as they can be used in interview questions.




US Term

What it means


Kindergarten (ages 4-5) to Grade 12 (ages 17- 18).  An umbrella term to mean all of the years of compulsory education.

Elementary School

Primary school serving children between the ages of 3 and 11 (can vary). Note that in many US schools certain subjects such as Art, Music, Drama, Languages, PE, Library and sometimes Science and Maths are taught by subject specialist teachers.

Middle School

Post primary school for children between the ages of 11 and 14 (can vary).  Also known as Intermediate School or Junior High School.

High School

The final 4 years of compulsory education for children between the ages of 15 and 18.  The first year students are referred to as “Freshmen”, the second year “Sophmores” the third year “Juniors” ,and the final year students are referred to as “Seniors”

Kindergarten (KG)

First year of school usually between the ages of 3 and 5. Often part of an Elementary school, but can also be used to refer to a stand-alone pre-school.  Sometimes the younger ages (2-3 or 3-4) are referred to as Pre-Kindergarten or Pre-K, or Nursery Schools

Advanced Placement (AP)

A program in the United States and Canada created by the College Board offering University-level curriculum and examinations to high school students. American colleges often grant course credit to students who obtain high scores above a certain number on the externally moderated examinations.


Higher education. Often used interchangeably with the term University  

Language Arts

English Language and Literature


An approach to or philosophy of teaching. How to teaching something.


Guides for grading tests or student work. Rubrics describe what work must look like to be considered excellent, satisfactory, or less so. Rubrics can be given to students when they begin the work so it is clear exactly how the assignment will be graded


Ways to find out what students know so teachers, parents and students can support and improve learning.  A standard is also known as  a benchmark

Alternative Assessments

Methods other than multiple-choice, true/false, or short-answer standardized tests, to assess learners. Students may answer questions, write reports, create projects, create a portfolio or perform demonstrations to show evidence of their learning.

Performance Assessment

Tests that ask students to demonstrate  knowledge or skills. For example, in math a student might be asked to explain in words a mathematical solution. A reading test might require students to write about the meaning of a story or illustration.

Standards-based Assessment

An assessment based on what students in particular grades/levels should know and be able to do.  

Standards-based teaching

When teachers use activities and lessons to ensure and illustrate that students master a predetermined set of requirements or standards.

Summative Assessment

Evaluation of the end product of a student’s learning activity. End of class examination papers are an example of summative assessment.

Formative Assessment

Ongoing evaluation of a student’s progress during a learning activity. Teacher observations, graded homework  and quizzes are a few examples of formative assessments. Similar to Continuous Assessment.


The classroom a student attends in the morning (and/or at the end of the day). Attendance is noted, announcements are made, and forms are collected/completed in this room. 


Physical materials such as cubes, blocks, or balls that model mathematical concepts.

Multiple Intelligences

A theory that postulates that human beings have eight separate intelligences  that determine how they learn.


Courses that are chosen by a student

School District

Regional educational authority responsible for setting curriculum, standards and usually, employment and deployment of teachers within the district


About the “US Curriculum”

As opposed to many other countries, the US does not currently have a National Curriculum.* This means that school districts (regional education authorities) can choose curriculum guides and textbooks that reflect each state’s learning standards, which are goals set by the state and/or district.  Because of this flexible approach there is not one ‘US curriculum’.

Generally, at the high school level, students take a broad variety of classes without special emphasis in any particular subject. Students are required to take a certain minimum number of mandatory subjects, but may choose additional subjects ("electives") to fill out their required hours of learning. Normally, students take at least 3 years of sciences (biology, chemistry and physics), 4 years of mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, pre-calculus, statistics and/or calculus), 4 years of English Language and Literature, social sciences and physical education. Foreign languages (Spanish being the most popular), arts and music are mandatory in some schools.    Many high schools selectively offer Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses which are more challenging and faster paced and normally taken during the last two years of High School.

At the end of it all, students get a High School Diploma which may or may not require a state sanctioned standardised test.  To get into an American University, however, students take externally moderated national standardised tests which are not controlled by the government but by the University boards. The two most popular are the SAT and the ACT.  Scores on these tests, which can be taken at any time and retaken to improve scores, are used along with the students’ portfolio of grades and achievements, to get an offer at an appropriate College

Some examples of publishers for US materials: ,,

*In 2014 the US government introduced Common Core Standards for Math and English to define what students should know at the end of each grade. It is a set of standards rather than a curriculum.

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