The biggest problem with the SBAC content specifications is the consortium’s plan for assessing Claim 1 (close reading). In short, the specifications put the focus on student mastery of particular reading skills, rather than on comprehension of carefully selected texts. For instance, the 14 “summative assessment targets” that will be used to determine whether students “can read closely and critically comprehend a range of increasingly complex literary and informational texts” are all narrowly-defined skills, including: using explicit details to support ideas, identifying or summarizing central ideas and key events, determining word meanings (including shades of meaning), and using supporting evidence to justify/explain inferences.
The challenge is that one of the things the Common Core standards are focused very specifically on using skills as a means to an end—on ensuring that students understand and can critically analyze appropriately complex texts. By focusing on skills as the “assessment targets,” the consortium will inevitably perpetuate the myth that mastery of skills absent mastery of rich content or comprehension of complex texts can help improve students’ reading comprehension writ large. That you can somehow assess students’ ability to summarize or use details to support inferences and use it as a proxy for deeper comprehension of carefully selected texts.
It is simply not true that "the Common Core standards are focused very specifically on using skills as a means to an end—on ensuring that students understand and can critically analyze appropriately complex texts." They may say that they are, but the standards themselves are not. The word "critical" or "critically" does not appear in the body of any of the Common Core ELA standards. There is no ELA standard for 6-12 that requires the student explicitly to "understand" a complex text. Now, maybe you can argue that it is implicit, but the standards very clearly avoid that exact point, for example:
RH.11-12.1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
That standard is very carefully crafted to not focus on "ensuring that students understand," but simply require the citation of evidence supporting an understanding, which may or may not be the student's own.
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