Stotsky: Common Core Writing Standards Not Linked to Appropriate Reading Standards

Dr. Sandra Stotsky, professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, wrote a piece for the Indiana Policy Review that critiques the Common Core ELA Standards and called Indiana to re-adopt the standards they had before that were superior to the Common Core.  She also pointed out a problem with the Common Core’s writing standards that very few are talking about – they are not linked to appropriate reading standards.  Reading and writing go hand in glove with one another.  I had written before that I was concerned how a dependence on informational text would impact writing as one learns to write well by reading great writing, but Stotsky points out a problem that is even more basic than that.

The standards are not age-appropriate, nor do the elementary standards adequately prepare older students for what the standards require of them later on.

She wrote:

Common Core’s English language arts standards don’t have just one fatal flaw, i.e., its arbitrary division of reading standards into two groups: 10 standards for “informational” text and nine for “literature” at all grade levels from K to 12. That’s only the most visible; its writing standards turn out to be just as damaging, constituting an intellectual impossibility for the average middle-grade student — and for reasons I hadn’t suspected. The architects of Common Core’s writing standards simply didn’t link them to appropriate reading standards, a symbiotic relationship well-known to reading researchers.  Last month I had an opportunity to see the results of teachers’ attempts to address Common Core’s writing standards at an event put on by GothamSchools, a four-year-old news organization trying to provide an independent news service to the New York City schools.

The teachers who had been selected to display their students’ writing (based on an application) provided visible evidence of their efforts to help their students address Common Core’s writing standards — detailed teacher-made or commercial worksheets structuring the composing of an argument. And it was clear that their students had tried to figure out how to make a “claim” and show “evidence” for it. But the problems they were having were not a reflection of their teachers’ skills or their own reading and writing skills. The source of their conceptual problems could be traced to the standards themselves.

At first glance the standards don’t leap out as a problem. Take, for example, Common Core’s first writing standard for grades six, seven and eight (almost identical across grades): “Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.” This goal undoubtedly sounds reasonable to adults, who have a much better idea of what “claims” are, what “relevant evidence” is and even what an academic “argument” is. But most children have a limited understanding of this meta-language for the structure of a composition.

So I explored Common Core’s standards for reading informational text in grades three, four and five (and then in grades six, seven and eight) and discovered nothing on what a claim or an argument is, or on distinguishing relevant from irrelevant evidence. In other words, the grades six, seven and eight writing standards are not coordinated with reading standards in grades three to eight that would require children to read the genre of writing their middle-school teachers are expecting them to compose. Middle-school teachers are being compelled by their grade-level standards to ask their students to do something for which the students will have to use their imaginations.

Be sure to read the rest.