Society and Culture, Education

Standards for success: Challenges and opportunities for the Common Core on the ground

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

If you or your child recently took a standardized test, you might have noticed that the essay portion of the exam often asks students to write about… themselves.

But does this kind of writing prepare students for the real world? Think back to your college days. How many times did your professors ask you to describe your role models? What about your workplace? How often does your boss ask about your favorite vacation spot? If your experiences are similar to my own, you might notice a fundamental mismatch. Students are not being held accountable for the kind of writing expected of them in college and future careers.

The Common Core–the state-driven set of reading and math standards for K-12 education–and its accompanying exams aim to change this. Instead of focusing solely on personal experiences, the standards emphasize the “ability to write logical arguments based on substantial claims, sound reasoning, and relevant evidence.” For instance, a simple prose constructed response from the 10th grade Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test (one of the two assessments Common Core-aligned states have adopted) asks students to:

Use what you have learned from reading ‘Daedalus and Icarus’ by Ovid and ‘To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph’ by Anne Sexton to write an essay that provides an analysis of how Sexton transforms Daedalus and Icarus.

As a starting point, you may want to consider what is emphasized, absent, or different in the two texts, but feel free to develop your own focus for analysis.

Develop your essay by providing textual evidence from both texts. Be sure to follow the conventions of standard English.

Similarly, the English language arts standards ask teachers (in all subjects) to “balanc[e] the reading of literature with the reading of informational texts.” This includes content such as “classic myths and stories from around the world, America’s Founding Documents, foundational American literature, and Shakespeare.”

Do these standards sound a bit different from those that rely on personal experience? They are. The Common Core will emphasize building logical claims based on textual evidence – a process that is vital for success in college and careers. Further, students will be encouraged to read challenging informational texts – building valuable research and analysis skills necessary for achievement in an increasingly information-based world.

These impending changes have been the subject of much criticism, as impassioned literary advocates argue this signals the death of great literature. However, as the Fordham Institute’s Kathleen Porter-McGee notes, the introduction to the Common Core immediately clarifies—no fewer than three times!—the fact that “a significant amount of reading of informational texts take place in and outside the ELA classroom.” Students will continue to read the great works of fiction, while balancing this with substantial nonfiction content.

Further, teaching to these more rigorous English language arts standards will require fundamental changes in the materials required, the way we train teachers to teach to the standards, and the assessments that will test student mastery.

With 45 states and the District of Columbia having adopted the standards and promising full implementation by the 2014-2015 school year, we need to hear from those tasked with implementing the standards about the particular challenges they are facing when it comes to literacy instruction.

On Thursday, January 10th, AEI will host three prominent superintendents, John Deasy of Los Angeles Unified School District, Eric J. Becoats of Durham Public Schools, Elizabeth Celania-Fagen of Douglas County, Colorado, as well as Common Core architect and president of the College Board, David Coleman, and Chief of Staff to Secretary Arne Duncan, Joanne Weiss, to discuss these challenges. They will relay the opportunities that the Common Core presents, the issues they are likely to face, and the federal, state, and local rules that get in the way of successful implementation. We hope that you will join us for “Common Core: What’s next for school systems” at AEI from 10:00-11:30 am on Thursday, January 10th for this important conversation, or you can also watch the live-stream of the event here.

4 thoughts on “Standards for success: Challenges and opportunities for the Common Core on the ground

  1. there are two significant differences between Europe/Japan/Australia/NZ and the US:

    1. – they have national curricula and national testing

    2. – they teach language holistically so that critical thinking is imbued in words and thoughts … not good enough to write good language.. it has to articulate relevant concepts and topics ….

    we teach language – not critical thinking… and it shows up in lower test scores on NAEP and in international comparisons.

  2. International comparisons are largely worthless because the US stopped having vocational high schools some decades ago. Foreign statistics are from their college-prep high schools. American stats are from our general purpose high schools.

    But when I was in grade school, my teachers (nuns) OF COURSE graded for English grammar and penmanship when I wrote a paper for history class. I was amazed to discover that at my children’s school (rated one of the best public schools in Virginia) did NOT cross-teach and grammar, punctuation, and spelling were completely ignored in grading papers in all subjects except English.

    I read an article last week about the fact that most MBAs who graduate from colleges in India are unemployable because they lack critical thinking. An analyst who hasn’t been taught how to Analyze problems is of course worthless. So the problem of expanding schools and failing to expand education of the students is not just an American problem.

    • ” International comparisons are largely worthless because the US stopped having vocational high schools some decades ago. Foreign statistics are from their college-prep high schools. American stats are from our general purpose high schools.”

      you would say this about ALL other countries from Europe to Japan to Australia?

      but you’d be wrong anyhow because the standards are based on NAEP which measures 4th, 8th and 11th grades and the deficiencies are in reading, math and science – across the board.

      Europe has 2 tracks – college prep and vocational but BOTH of them have rigorous standards for core academic reading, math, and science.

      Only 1/3 of our kids score “proficient” in these areas and that’s by NAEP standards which is US not international.

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