Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Phonics Tribe is Getting Restless

Diane Ravitch points us to an interview from January with Dr. Louisa Moats:

Dr. Moats: Marilyn Adams and I were the team of writers, recruited in 2009 by David Coleman and Sue Pimentel, who drafted the Foundational Reading Skills section of the CCSS and closely reviewed the whole ELA (English Language Arts) section for K-5. We drafted sections on Language and Writing Foundations that were not incorporated into the document as originally drafted. I am the author of the Reading Foundational Skills section of Appendix A. ...

Dr. Moats: I never imagined when we were drafting standards in 2010 that major financial support would be funneled immediately into the development of standards-related tests. How naïve I was. The CCSS represent lofty aspirational goals for students aiming for four year, highly selective colleges. Realistically, at least half, if not the majority, of students are not going to meet those standards as written, although the students deserve to be well prepared for career and work through meaningful and rigorous education.

Our lofty standards are appropriate for the most academically able, but what are we going to do for the huge numbers of kids that are going to “fail” the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test? We need to create a wide range of educational choices and pathways to high school graduation, employment, and citizenship. The Europeans got this right a long time ago. ...

Dr. Moats: What is good for older students (e.g., the emphasis on text complexity, comprehension of difficult text, written composition, use of internet resources) is not necessarily good for younger students who need to acquire the basic skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Novice readers (typically through grade 3) need a stronger emphasis on the foundational skills of reading, language, and writing than on the “higher level” academic activities that depend on those foundations, until they are fluent readers.

Our CCSS guidelines, conferences, publishers’ materials, and books have turned away from critical, research-based methodologies on how to develop the basic underlying skills of literacy. Systematic, cumulative skill development and code-emphasis instruction is getting short shrift all around, even though we have consensus reports from the 1920’s onward that show it is more effective than comprehension-focused instruction.

The CC was marketed as being neutral on the "reading wars" issue of Phonics v. Whole Language, but typically, this was a crock. The Reading Foundations standards Dr. Moats worked on were very explicit about phonics, and the corresponding appendix was very specific compared to the rest of the standards.

In practice -- the rhetoric around the standards and, I gather, the design of the tests -- the Reading standards have trumped the Reading Foundations standards. What the standards actually say just isn't that important.

To me the most interesting thing here is just getting a sense of how the various parts of the CC were drafted. Just knowing who wrote which parts would make it all much easier to interpret.

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