Rigor, relevance and Common Core
As of this fall, 46 of the states have adopted the Common Core State Standards in ELA, English Language Arts. Designed to close the gap between the skills of high school graduates and those needed for college and career readiness, these standards are meant to better prepare students for success in the competitive global economy.
The required rigor was backward mapped and placed on a continuum that developed these standards starting in kindergarten with more equitable sharing of the responsibility for instruction.
The lead author of the anchor standards describes rigor as complex thinking about complex topics. Her goal was to increase the relevance or real world applications for students as well because it promotes better engagement.
The number of standards will be reduced from over 100 specific skills at each grade level to about 30 more general ones. The anchor standards for ELA are the same from K-12 but each grade level has more specific subsets.
They define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, but do not prescribe how educators should teach them. The county ERS office has produced a bookmark for each standard at every grade level that is a handy reference tool for teachers for purchase.
Several other shifts in literacy between the state standards and the Common Core are indicated. First, the new standards expect students to engage with more complex text. Next, students are expected to extract examples from both the literary and informational texts by siting evidence in their written responses. Finally, the goal is to build knowledge using more academic vocabulary from various disciplines.
Another big change is that at least 50 percent of what students should be reading is informational text. Elementary students have been living in the land of literature and will need to venture into the nonfiction realm and read more informational text. Teachers who have set aside science and social studies instruction may return to these texts in a second language arts block to teach nonfiction literacy skills.
The pendulum has swung from one extreme to another and now appears to be settling in the middle. The whole language experience had few definitive expectations and the other extreme of rigidly structured lessons has left students disengaged from the worksheets.
No longer will students only fill in the bubble. Instead they will be required to demonstrate mastery on more rigorous performance based activities. With the emergence of psychometrics or scientific measures, the validity and reliability of tests has improved.
The new standards also require teaching that uses more theme based units and less discreet skills. The new assessments will be longer, more in-depth performance tasks taken online using computer adaptive tests.
These new tests will adjust the level of the questions given based on the student’s responses. Easier questions will be generated when a child starts missing and harder questions continue with accurate responses.
Tulare County Office of Education conducts teacher trainings to better prepare teachers for what will be expected during the implementation phase. Teachers at the training noted that with a greater emphasis on poetry, they’ll need to focus more effort on this genre in order for students to be successful on performance tasks such as this sample.
Students will determine the meaning of the metaphor of a cat in Carl Sandburg’s poem “Fog” and contrast that figurative language to the meaning of the simile in William Blake’s “The Echoing Green.”
While the new direction is viewed by many as a course correction, teachers are concerned.
Implementation is slotted to start before publishers have materials available. Time is needed to develop materials for the transition to the new standards.
In the face of decreasing budgets and increasing class sizes, teachers continue to meet the needs of their students and bring test scores up. They’re busy making learning relevant while intensifying the rigor.
Kristi McCracken, author of two children’s books and a long time teacher in the South Valley, can be reached at email@example.com.