Thursday, April 01, 2010

My Official Feedback on Common Core ELA

The Common Core draft English Language Arts standards are not internationally benchmarked. Nor is it likely that they can be with any integrity, for several reasons.

First, the goals of the CCRS are fundamentally different and more limited than those of high-performing countries, none of which conceive the purpose of primary and secondary English Language Arts instruction as limited to “college and career readiness.”

Nor do any of them perceive the role of subject area standards as primarily a specification for an assessment; the Common Core standards seem to be written primarily with this aim. High-achieving countries use standards to define each discipline and guide instruction, not simply to design tests.

In many cases the Common Core ELA standards specify very specific assessment tasks which educators in high-performing countries would not consider standards. For example, “Compare a poem with a conventional structure, such as a sonnet, to a poem without a proscribed structure, such as a free verse poem,” would not be considered a standard in any high achieving country. It might be an indicator or a performance example, but not a standard in itself. This task cannot be validly benchmarked to a complete content standard. Further, grade-level standards made up of specific tasks such as this will narrow the curriculum within English classrooms and institutionalize a test-prep approach to instruction.

In other ways, benchmarking is hindered by imprecision and a decision to not use the academic and professional language of English Language Arts teachers and academia, to the extent that “genre,” an absolutely fundamental tool in the analysis of texts, is not directly addressed. For example, in first grade, students should “Distinguish major categories of writing from each other (e.g., stories and poems), drawing on a wide reading of a range of text types.” A first grader doesn’t need to know these “categories” and “text types” have a collective name in the discipline of English, “genre,” but standards writers should know and use the term. Similarly, the reading and writing standards place a heavy emphasis on arguments, but do not use the language or concepts of the discipline of Rhetoric. These are useful, proven tools that both college- and career-ready students and standards writers should be able to understand and use.

The process of international benchmarking is further complicated by the idiosyncratic and highly redundant organization of the standards, particularly in Reading, where each CCRS is recapitulated four times at each grade level. No high performing country organizes their standards this way. The CCRS do not provide a conceptual framework for the discipline of English that allow the clear separation of concepts.

For example, “Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and explain how specific word choices shape meaning and tone,” should be two standards, “interpret words and phrases...” and “explain how specific word choices shape meaning and tone,” because they are two separate skills. Meanwhile, in seventh grade, for example, this standard is repeated four times in different places with identical wording.

What is most baffling about the draft Common Core ELA standards is how clearly inferior they are to Achieve’s American Diploma Project benchmarks, which mostly avoid the issues lifted above. For Achieve to spend 14 years building toward the goal of clear, rigorous, aligned nationally adopted standards only to turn out this steaming pile has to go down as one of the great choke jobs in the history of American non-profit organizations.

3 comments:

jd2718 said...

How much of this is real?

I mean, I assume that the last line (first place I noticed anything amiss) is an April Fools. Right?

"For Achieve to spend 14 years building toward the goal of clear, rigorous, aligned nationally adopted standards only to turn out this steaming pile has to go down as one of the great choke jobs in the history of American non-profit organizations."

I mean, you didn't submit "steaming pile," right?

Jonathan

Tom Hoffman said...

Of course I did. That's already the censored version.

Mark Pennington said...

I am increasingly concerned about how the standards-based movement is co-opting teacher independence and judgment in our diverse schools. Check out <a href="http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-the-english-language-arts-standards/”>How to Teach the ELA Standards</a>.