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Report: ELA teachers not implementing Common Core

ELA teachers aren’t making the instructional shifts necessary for the Common Core

ELA-teachers-common-core According to a stunning report released today, “a huge percentage of ELA teachers” aren’t making the instructional shifts necessary for the Common Core, instead relying on old teaching materials and classroom practices. The report suggests that this lack of proper implementation could be setting students back in reading skills.

The report, released today by The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, “Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments,” makes the argument that since the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), though national math scores have improved, reading (ELA) scores have barely budged. [Click here for the publication homepage.]

“How can it be that a nationwide push to improve reading has had only a negligible impact on overall reading achievement, even among out nation’s highest-performing districts and schools?” asks Chester E. Finn, Jr., president of the Fordham Institute and former United States Assistant Secretary of Education; and Kathleen Porter-Magee, senior advisor for Policy and Instruction at The College Board and a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

According to Finn and Magee, there are four main reasons, based on meticulous research, that national reading scores have not seen significant change:

(Next page: Low reading scores and not implementing the right texts)

1. NCLB standards “varied wildly” in quality and rigor between states. While states have set standards, the “expectations guiding teaching and learning did little to advance quality curriculum and instruction.”

2. In an effort to meet NCLB requirements, many schools sidelined other “vital” subjects such as history and science. This could have negatively impacted reading, explains the report, since “reading comprehension itself depends on content knowledge and vocabulary, not just successfully ‘decoding’ groups of letter and words.”

3. “Too many people believe—incorrectly—that the best way to encourage students to read if to feed them a steady diet of ‘relevant’ and easily digested books,” notes the report. Even curricula at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshop discourage teachers from assigning texts thought to be challenging for students. “Texts that are more difficult—and might fall into a student’s ‘frustration’ level—are deemed simply too difficult and therefore to be shunned.”

4. Pedagogy has suffered as teachers were “admonished to function as ‘guides on the side’ rather than ‘sages on the stage;’” and texts were often scrutinized for possible bias. “This had the effect of making many of the [texts] boring and dull, hence not really worth reading—and certainly not worth reading deeply.

Combining these four factors, they “malign together and it’s no surprise that American students were not being challenged to read appropriately complex books, to do high-level analytical work, or to steep themselves in the kinds of literary nonfiction or informational texts that might help them make significant gains in reading comprehension,” explains Finn and Magee.

Still not implementing the Common Core

The report’s authors describe how the implementation of Common Core State Standards could help increase student reading levels, since CCSS texts for ELA emphasize the correlation between knowledge and reading comprehension, require regular practice with complex texts, and focuses on informational texts that deepen “critical thinking” skills.

“But will these shifts make their way into American classrooms?” asks the report.

(Next page: The report’s findings)

According to Fordham Institute’s study, which surveyed 1,154 public school ELA teachers from across the country, findings showed that the “heavy lifting of aligning curriculum and instruction to the rigor of the CCSS mostly still lies ahead.”

For instance, though the CCSS emphasize text as the focus of ELA curriculum, the majority of teachers (73 percent of elementary, 56 percent of middle school, and 50 percent of high school) still say their lessons are dominated by skills. “They are more likely to try to fit texts to skills than to ground their skills in instruction in what is appropriate to the texts they are teaching,” explains the report.

Also, though the CCSS asks teacher to assign texts that provide complexity appropriate to grade level, “significant proportions of teachers (64 percent in elementary grades) are still assigning texts based on students’ present reading “prowess.” “This means that many youngsters are not yet working with appropriately complex language in their schoolbooks,” notes the report.

And though CCSS requires ELA teachers to use informational texts, many teachers (56 percent at middle school level) don’t assign any of the literary or informational texts listed in the survey, which represented both CCSS texts and other “high-quality” texts.

However, the one positive highlight of the report found that most ELA teachers (62 percent of all grade levels) thought CCSS would have at least some positive learning benefits for their students.

In order for the standards that ELA teachers seem to approve of to work, however, “they must change classroom practice,” notes the report.

*eSchool News editor’s note: Stay tuned for part 2 of this story where we talk to a sample of surveyed teachers, as well as the report’s authors, to discuss why the disconnect between ELA teachers and CCSS implementation might occur.

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