Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Comparing College and Career Readiness Standards

Texas completed their College and Career Readiness Standards (Texas CCRS) last year. This is one of the reasons that Texas is one of two states not participating in the Common Core State Standards Initiative (Common CCRS), and it provides a good point of comparison for the draft Common Standards for English Language Arts. Here are my eight points of comparison:

  1. Relationship to graduation and lower grade level standards.

    The Texas CRRS were created after the TEKS K-12 standards, to facilitate the transition between high school and college:

    In developing the CCRS, the VTs set out to specify the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in entry-level community college and university courses. The CCRS serve a different purpose than high school graduation standards, which typically emphasize mastery of basic skills and knowledge, and not necessarily college and career readiness. High school courses are designed to provide a broad set of core knowledge and skills and a foundation in literacy and basic mathematics. College courses typically require students to use content knowledge to weigh and analyze important issues and questions in a field of study. Even a high-quality college-preparatory curriculum is unlikely to prepare students to pursue a specific major in college. It can, however, help student develop a foundation of skills that they can employ to successfully pursue a variety of college majors. Therefore, the CCRS distinguish themselves from high school standards by emphasizing content knowledge as a means to an end: the content stimulates students to engage in deeper levels of thinking.

    That is, these standards are a vehicle to improve the TEKS, and while the intention is to make the TEKS more demanding in some dimensions, there is also an acknowledgement that a high school curriculum should have an underlying breadth beyond "college and career readiness." This is an important distinction.

    The relationship between the Common CCRS, graduation standards, and the underlying K-12 standards is completely undefined in this document. For an outsider to the associated political process (and perhaps to insiders, too) any evaluation of these standards for suitability within the context of a larger school curriculum is simply a guess. We don't know if they are intended to be translated directly into graduation requirements, whether they are to be augmented by additional foundational standards. We simply do not know.

  2. Relationship to subject area standards.

    The Texas CCRS provide subject area standards, including English/Language Arts and Cross-Disciplinary standards. The results are somewhat redundant, but provide a place to give fundamental skills like "reasoning" status as first-order standards, rather than simply as a component of reading and writing. Also, it provides a context for general statements about working both independently and collaboratively, rather than repeating them in the context of each subject area.

    The intended relationship between the Common CCRS "Reading, Writing, and Speaking and Listening" standards and English Language Arts standards is unstated and unknown.

  3. Clear focus on college.

    Despite a few obligatory words about students heading directly to the workforce, the Texas CCRS standards are clearly aimed at preparation for college. In contrast, the Common CCRS maintains a split purpose throughout, leading to standards such as:

    Students must have the capacity to handle independently the quantity of reading material... required in college and workforce training.

    In my experience the difference between the amount of reading needed for college and workforce training is vast. The difference between several books a week and flipping through a single binder. This ambiguity makes it difficult to assess the suitability of the Common CCRS.

  4. Focus on performance standards.

    The Texas CCRS follows a simple format: a brief introduction to the nature of the discipline in question, e.g., "English as a Way of Knowing," and then enumerated performance standards, with detailed indicators in an appendix.

    The Common CCRS has a four part introduction, then separate sections for reading, writing, and speaking and listening, each of which has "standards for range and content" as well as "standards for student performance," with supporting "applications" (e.g., writing a research paper) and reading exemplars. The relationship between enumerated standards, that is, the ones you actually use when you're writing curriculum or doing various alignment tasks, and supporting materials is always open to interpretation. In this document, the relationships between the various components is often weak. For example, one of the "premises" of the standards, as outlined in the introduction, states:

    Students consider their reading, writing, and speaking and listening in relation to the contextual factors of audience, task, purpose and discipline

    However, there is no reading standard that addresses audience analysis. Nor is the discipline of English Language Arts defined or explained in any way in this document. Similarly, the range and content standards state:

    Literature enables students to access through imagination a wide range of experiences. By immersing themselves in literature, students enlarge their experiences and deepen their understanding of their own and other cultures.

    However, the performance standards don't acknowledge the concept of "culture" at all and give students little do do with literature, beyond a few tightly delineated academic analytical tasks.

    The range and content standards are particularly problematic. In reading, they could be summarized thus: "A lot. And hard!" In reading, they are vague to the point of uselessness. In writing, they assert an alternately narrow in range: argument and informative, only.

    Most international standards either include these "range and content standards" as performance indicators or move them into a separate curriculum document, where there is a clear relationship to standards.

    Finally, inclusion of the range and content standards, as well as the exemplars (which are often put in separate documents), has had a major negative effect on the discourse about this document. People have fixated on these parts as they're most easily grasped by the layperson, but they are far, far less important in practice than the performance standards themselves, the binding substance of a standards document. Everything else is commentary.

  5. Overall coverage.

    Both these documents are brief. There are just a touch over three pages of performance standards in the Texas English and cross disciplinary CCRS. The Common CCRS are roughly equivalent in length. In terms of scope, however, my back of the envelope alignment comes out with the Common CCRS covering about 2/3rds of Texas's. In particular, the CCRS's standards only cover about a quarter of Texas's reading standards.

  6. Organization and presentation

    The Texas CCRS are attractive, clearly organized, a pleasure to read and easy to use. The Common CCRS are none of those things.

The predominant point I was left with after reading the Texas CCRS is that we simply do not have enough information about the Common CCRS to evaluate them as standards. As a document, the Common CCRS is an utter failure.

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