Although the writers of the English Language Arts (ELA) standards talk about the many changes contained in them, District 203 already has in place many concepts the standards discuss. Readers familiar with D203’s curriculum will see parallels with the standards emphasis on students analyzing evidence, conducting research, collaborating on projects and honing their presentation skills in class. However, just as in the math standards, the ELA standards seem to “push downward” when D203 students are expected to master specific topics, and the standards seem to expect a greater level of participation by the student.
An excellent graphic example of this “pushing downward” is contained in this graphic that compares current D203 ELA standards for Kindergarten and the CCSS ELA standards. It is because of this increased expectation of what a Kindergartner is expected to know, that D203 is currently looking into implementing All Day Kindergarten in order to have sufficient time to adequately cover the required topics.
Where the standards also seem to represent a significant departure from D203’s current practice is in the area of increased use of non-fiction texts and increased text complexity of what students read. The standards spend significant time discussing this topic, indicating that nationally only 7% of what students read could be considered non-fiction or informational texts and students are not reading sufficiently difficult texts, resulting in them being unprepared for the kind of reading that will be required of them in college and career.
The CCSS idea of increasing the use of informational texts begins in Kindergarten, with the standards recommending a 50% usage of informational texts in K-5 ramping up to 70% in high school (across all classes, not just ELA). The writers state that increased use of increasingly complex informational texts in high school is vital because, “Being able to read complex text independently and proficiently is essential for high achievement in college and the workplace and important in numerous life tasks. Moreover, current research suggests that if students cannot read challenging texts with understanding—if they have not developed the skill, concentration, and stamina to read such texts—they will read less in general.”
The stakes in increasing our student’s reading skills cannot be overstated. A 2004 study conducted by the National Center for Education reported that although taking one or more remedial/developmental courses of any kind reduced a student’s chance of eventually earning a degree or certificate, “the need for remedial reading appears to be the most serious barrier to degree completion.” The concern does not end there. The standards discuss a report by the National Endowment for the Arts (2004), which states that, “the percent of U.S. adults reading literature dropped from 54.0 in 1992 to 46.7 in 2002, while the percent of adults reading any book also declined by 7 percent during the same time. Although the decline occurred in all demographic groups, the steepest decline by far was among 18-to-24- and 25-to-34-year-olds (28 percent and 23 percent, respectively). In other words, the problem of a lack of reading is not only getting worse but doing so at an accelerating rate. Although numerous factors likely contribute to the decline in reading, it is reasonable to conclude from the evidence presented above that the deterioration in overall reading ability, abetted by a decline in K–12 text complexity and a lack of focus on independent reading of complex texts, is a contributing factor.”
In writing, the standards reduce the importance of narrative writing (a form rarely used in the workplace) and encourage greater emphasis on writing informative and explanatory texts, where the student is expected to present complex ideas and topics, clearly and accurately, through effective analysis of the content. There is also an emphasis on students having the ability to write arguments in support of specific factual claims, displaying clear reasoning and offering relevant evidence to support their position. Students should not only be able to write a strong argument, but also be able to evaluate the arguments made by others, analyzing the validity of the reasoning offered and the evidence provided.
Again, as with the math standards, the ELA standards require a student to be a more active participant in their education. Students can no longer be passive participants in their studies, but are going to face far greater demands to not just read a text once to “find the answers,” but instead, analyze a text to the point where they have a command of the topic and can discern the salient information, analyze it, and write convincingly about it. It should be noted that this idea of analyzing and mastering a text, and successfully using reference materials as evidence to support their position, applies across all subjects: English, math, history, social science and science.
Key Points in English Language Arts
- The standards establish a “staircase” of increasing complexity in what students must be able to read so that all students are ready for the demands of college- and career-level reading no later than the end of high school. The standards also require the progressive development of reading comprehension so that students advancing through the grades are able to gain more from whatever they read.
- Through reading a diverse array of classic and contemporary literature as well as challenging informational texts in a range of subjects, students are expected to build knowledge, gain insights, explore possibilities, and broaden their perspective. Because the standards are building blocks for successful classrooms, but recognize that teachers, school districts and states need to decide on appropriate curriculum, they intentionally do not offer a reading list. Instead, they offer numerous sample texts to help teachers prepare for the school year and allow parents and students to know what to expect at the beginning of the year.
- The standards mandate certain critical types of content for all students, including classic myths and stories from around the world, foundational U.S. documents, seminal works of American literature, and the writings of Shakespeare. The standards appropriately defer the many remaining decisions about what and how to teach to states, districts, and schools.
- The ability to write logical arguments based on substantive claims, sound reasoning, and relevant evidence is a cornerstone of the writing standards, with opinion writing—a basic form of argument—extending down into the earliest grades.
- Research—both short, focused projects (such as those commonly required in the workplace) and longer term in depth research —is emphasized throughout the standards but most prominently in the writing strand since a written analysis and presentation of findings is so often critical.
- Annotated samples of student writing accompany the standards and help establish adequate performance levels in writing arguments, informational/explanatory texts, and narratives in the various grades.
Speaking and Listening
- The standards require that students gain, evaluate, and present increasingly complex information, ideas, and evidence through listening and speaking as well as through media.
- An important focus of the speaking and listening standards is academic discussion in one-on-one, small-group, and whole-class settings. Formal presentations are one important way such talk occurs, but so is the more informal discussion that takes place as students collaborate to answer questions, build understanding, and solve problems.
- The standards expect that students will grow their vocabularies through a mix of conversations, direct instruction, and reading. The standards will help students determine word meanings, appreciate the nuances of words, and steadily expand their repertoire of words and phrases.
- The standards help prepare students for real life experience at college and in 21st century careers. The standards recognize that students must be able to use formal English in their writing and speaking but that they must also be able to make informed, skillful choices among the many ways to express themselves through language.
- Vocabulary and conventions are treated in their own strand not because skills in these areas should be handled in isolation but because their use extends across reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Media and Technology
- Just as media and technology are integrated in school and life in the twenty-first century, skills related to media use (both critical analysis and production of media) are integrated throughout the standards.
Some more on ELA Reading:
One of the key requirements of the Common Core State Standards for Reading is that all students must be able to comprehend texts of steadily increasing complexity as they progress through school. By the time they complete the core, students must be able to read and comprehend independently and proficiently the kinds of complex texts commonly found in college and careers.
While reading demands in college, workforce training programs, and life in general have held steady or increased over the last half century, K–12 texts have actually declined in sophistication, and relatively little attention has been paid to students’ ability to read complex texts independently. These conditions have left a serious gap between many high school seniors’ reading ability and the reading requirements they will face.
Being able to read complex text independently and proficiently is essential for high achievement in college and the workplace and important in numerous life tasks. Moreover, current trends suggest that if students cannot read challenging texts with understanding—if they have not developed the skill, concentration, and stamina to read such texts—they will read less in general. In particular, if students cannot read complex expository text to gain information, they will likely turn to text-free or text-light sources, such as video, podcasts, and tweets.
The Standards’ model of text complexity consists of three equally important parts.
(1) Qualitative dimensions of text complexity. In the Standards, qualitative dimensions and qualitative factors refer to those aspects of text complexity best measured or only measurable by an attentive human reader, such as levels of meaning or purpose; structure; language conventionality and clarity; and knowledge demands.
(2) Quantitative dimensions of text complexity. The terms quantitative dimensions and quantitative factors refer to those aspects of text complexity, such as word length or frequency, sentence length and text cohesion, that are difficult if not impossible for a human reader to evaluate efficiently, especially in long texts, and are thus today typically measured by computer software.
(3) Reader and task considerations. While the prior two elements of the model focus on the inherent complexity of text, variables specific to particular readers (such as motivation, knowledge, and experiences) and to particular tasks (such as purpose and the complexity of the task assigned and the questions posed) must also be considered when determining whether a text is appropriate for a given student. Such assessments are best made by teachers employing their professional judgment, experience, and knowledge of their students and the subject.
Measures of text complexity must be aligned with college and career readiness expectations for all students. Qualitative scales of text complexity should be anchored at one end by descriptions of texts representative of those required in typical first-year credit-bearing college courses and in workforce training programs. Similarly, quantitative measures should identify the college- and career-ready reading level as one endpoint of the scale. MetaMetrics, for example, has realigned its Lexile ranges to match the Standards’ text complexity grade bands and has adjusted upward its trajectory of reading comprehension development through the grades to indicate that all students should be reading at the college and career readiness level by no later than the end