Thursday, October 17, 2013

Etymology of a Standard

  1. Find evidence in support of an argument.
  2. Support or challenge assertions about the text by citing evidence in the text explicitly and accurately.
  3. Cite specific textual evidence... to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  4. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text...

The first is from the NAEP framework for 12th grade. It is straightforward and plainspoken as such things go, and is rather clearly the inspiration for this part of CC Reading standard 1.

Second is the first draft of the Common Core anchor standard. It is actually better than the NAEP version in some ways -- "support or challenge" "cite" vs. "find" evidence. Somehow now though we're just supporting or challenging "assertions about the text" instead of "an argument," which seems unnecessarily limiting and hostile to the larger content and context.

Moving on, the third version is the relevant part of the final anchor standard 1. Now we are supporting "conclusions," which is significantly more vague than "argument" or "assertions." I think "conclusions" has to be read as "whatever," because I don't see that it has any specific meaning at all in this context. I can't imagine why they made that choice.

The last one is the final relevant grade 11-12 reading standard. I've never understood why it is different than the college and career readiness anchor standard. Now the rigor is turned up to 11, "strong and thorough," etc., but seemingly even less scope: "what the text says explicitly as well as inferences..."

We've started with, essentially: "I should be able to give you an informational text that supports an argument, and as a reader you should be able to pull out the evidence for that argument." And ended up with something more like "I should be able to give you a text and you should be able to pull out evidence telling me what it says." It is just peculiar. I don't understand why they would take that path.

Here is something much more typical of high performing countries, cited as a "counterpart" standard in CCSSI's draft benchmarking:

  • Assess the appropriateness of own and others’ understandings and interpretations of works of literature and other texts, by referring to the works and texts for supporting or contradictory evidence

This is similar, yet, fundamentally, philosophically different, because it focuses on "understanding" and "interpretation," particularly by the student. These words are not used in the CC Reading standards. This is one of the CC standards' key defining features. This standard is essentially incompatible with the Common Core, and significantly more "rigorous."

Examples drawn from here (here).


Tom Hinkle said...


This is a superb post.

It's interesting because when we've looked at the new CC language in department meetings, we mostly just nod our heads and think, okay, not so bad, this more or less supports what we want to do anyway.

But looking closely at this final standard, it emerges that they are saying something *close enough* to what we do that we can pretend it's the same when it actually isn't.

For example, I teach an open-ended essay workshop in which students read and write a variety of essays, very few of them of the traditional "school" kind, all of them anchored in published models.

I do require students to cite and use evidence, which is something we all (in our department) think is important. I would generally think that my rubric about integrating quotes into a paper, analyzing sources and so on would align to this standard.

That said, when my students research, say, breast cancer, and read some or other text on the subject by an expert, and then quote it, that appears to no longer count as meeting the standard unless the student is writing not an essay about breast cancer but an essay about the source they read on breast cancer, which would be a much stranger sort of thing to be writing. As a rule, of course, it's much more natural to write about real things (history, ideas, science, relationships, etc.) than about texts about those things, and so if this standard now means we will only be writing analyses of these informational texts, then all our writing assignments just got worse.

The bigger question, though, is will this ever matter. To the extent that the CC is written for test-writers, then of course no one was ever going to write a test that would look anything like my essay class. At best, students will read sources given to them and use them to make an argument within narrowly defined parameters (also given to them) using those sources. If my class taught them to read informational sources and integrate quotations, they should be all set.

If, on the other hand, these things grow to actually drive instruction in some kind of rigorous way, we have a much bigger problem, because now the research essay on breast cancer is out, and in its place we have nothing but close readings of documents and literature as such ("analyze this" vs. "use this") and that of course is a big step backward.

Tom Hoffman said...

I'd say New York is the canary in the coal mine on this issue. Teachers thought they had a handle on the Common Core expectations based on PD but were taken aback by the... stranger analytical questions on the tests.