Monday, September 24, 2012

Rising to Meet Common Core Expectations for Text Rigor and Content

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English language arts (ELA) stress that students read more complex texts. There are several reasons for this:
  • Research indicates that pedagogy that focuses on higher-order or critical thinking at the expense of reading complex texts leaves students unprepared for college-level work.
  • The texts read by K-12 students have declined in sophistication over the last 50 years, while the complexity of college and workplace texts has remained steady or even increased during the same span of time.
  • K-12 students read far more narrative text than expository text, despite the fact that expository text is more challenging for students to read and is the majority of what they are expected to read in college and in the workplace.
  • When students do read expository texts, they are usually only asked to skim and scan for specific information.
Moreover, beginning in sixth grade, CCSS calls for instruction to promote literacy in social studies, science, and technical subjects.

How ATI ELA Content Specialists Are Responding to CCSS Text Expectations

ATI ELA content specialists are working to meet CCSS expectations for text complexity. This is exemplified by the development of content for RI 11.9, a performance objective which calls for students to “[a]nalyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features.”

The performance objective requires that students engage in rigorous analysis of a prescribed range of texts. ELA selected George Washington’s farewell address for the beauty and complexity of its writing and for its historical importance. Items were written with the intent to guide students’ analysis as they read the address, similar to the way teachers use carefully timed and phrased glosses and questions to call students’ attention to key aspects of texts. Since the performance objective does not limit the type of analysis students should bring to bear on texts, the items written to the address require a range of skills and thought processes:
  • Analysis of the meaning of archaic, technical, and figurative language using contextual clues (e.g., “In the first paragraph, what does the phrase ‘clothed with that important trust’ mean?”)
  • Summary or paraphrasing of complex, important passages (e.g., “Read the quotation. ‘...and that in withdrawing the tender of service, which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness....’ Which best paraphrases the quotation?”)
  • Analysis of Washington’s rhetorical strategies (e.g., “Read the quotation. ‘If benefits have resulted to our country from these services....’ What does Washington accomplish through the use of the passive voice?”)
  • Application of historical knowledge to aid in comprehension of the text (e.g., “Read the quotation. ‘You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together....’ Which event is Washington referring to?”)
  • Inferring background information based on contextual clues (e.g., “What can you infer from the fifth paragraph about America in 1796?”)
A student who can correctly answer the battery of items written to Washington’s farewell address demonstrates his or her ability to engage in the kind of rigorous analysis of sophisticated texts called for by CCSS.

ATI ELA content specialists’ work in developing a robust library of sophisticated expository texts is ongoing. Recent item families added include the Emancipation Proclamation (ninth grade) and several Supreme Court opinions (Brown v. Board of Education [10th grade], Justice Murphy’s dissent in Korematsu v. United States [11th grade], and Gideon v. Wainright [12th grade]). ELA content specialists are also adding complex expository texts for the lower grades, including an illustrated text about dandelions (“Dandelions”) for first grade; a biography of Abraham Lincoln (“The Man Who Taught Himself to Be President”) and a text about helium (“Up, Up and Away: The Story of Helium”), both for third grade; a text about year-round education (“The Benefits of Year-Round Education”) for sixth grade; and a text about hummingbirds (“Flower-Kissers”) for eighth grade.

Lucas Schippers, Ph.D.
Content Specialist
Assessment Technology Incorporated

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