Although the intention behind Common Core is laudable, public reaction has been mixed. The standards themselves focus on the skills that students need to develop, rather than exactly how (and, to some extent, what) teachers in a particular school will teach, but the implementation has varied across the country. So far, the standards have been fully or partially adopted by 43 states. In addition, controversy has surrounded the wide array of curricula and tests developed for the Common Core. These standards will impact reading standards (and how reading is taught) in the following ways:
1. More Depth, Less Breadth
One of the goals of the Common Core is to provide fewer standards than most states used previously, but to go into more depth. While many educators and parents agree with this focus, not all do.
The reading standards at all levels are divided into key ideas and details, craft and structure, integration of knowledge and ideas, and range of reading and level of text. Grade-specific standards flesh out what students should achieve in each grade. All K-12 students will have reading standards in literature, informational text, and foundational skills. Students in grades 6-12 will also have literacy standards in history/social studies and science/technical subjects.
2. Increased Complexity in Texts
A major focus of the Common Core standards is to expose students to increasingly complex texts throughout their K-12 school career. While the standards do not give a list of required texts, samples are provided that demonstrate the level of complexity appropriate and expected for each grade level. By the time students graduate from high school, they will be expected to be ready for college- and career-level reading. In addition to increased complexity in texts, the standards place emphasis on a mastery of academic vocabulary.
3. Focus on Content-Rich Nonfiction
In order to help students be better prepared for college and career success, the reading standards increasingly focus on content-rich nonfiction—not just fiction. By having an elevated focus on nonfiction texts compared to past standards, students are building their general knowledge and vocabulary while they are building their reading comprehension skills. The types of nonfiction texts used varies per grade level and per state, but the Common Core standards aim for half of the texts used in K-5 to be literary in nature, with the other half being informational. In addition, children in grades 6-12 will have additional content-area literacy standards.
Common Core reading classes have a common basis of classic myths and stories, important U.S. documents and works of literature, and Shakespeare’s writings. The rest of the content is determined by states, school districts, and classroom teachers.
4. Heightened Use of Evidence From Texts
Rather than encouraging additional narrative-form writing based on subjective experience and opinion, the standards call for an increased focus on evidence-based argumentative and informative writing. In order to be able to write effectively, students need to learn to read carefully and to be able to find and understand evidence in the texts they are reading. The standards suggest that an increased emphasis on evidence-based writing, in addition to narrative writing assignments, better prepares the college-bound student, who will be expected to write persuasively based on empirical facts.
5. Elevated Emphasis on Critical Thinking and Inference
The Common Core standards require that students learn to read and think critically at an earlier age.For example, the Foundation for Excellence in Education shows side-by-side comparisons of passages and sample questions that meet Common Core and past state standards. Common Core requires that first graders read passages previously given to second and third graders. In addition, instead of just retelling the story and listing the main characters (which is both a Common Core and a previous state standard for many first grade students), students are also required to compare and contrast experiences of the characters in the story (which is a level of analysis that states previously required in later grades).
Although several things have changed with the adoption of the Common Core reading standards, one thing that hasn’t changed is that the standards highlight the knowledge and skills that students are expected to learn each year in school. The Common Core puts more of an emphasis on a shared expectation of knowledge and skills for each grade level. There is also a large emphasis on collaboration between the subject areas in order to increase reading skills while at the same time increasing content knowledge.
The Common Core allows students to move from one place to another while still being on target and creates more rigorous standards to ensure that students have the best chance possible to prepare for their future, no matter where they live. While the Common Core standards provide a benchmark for students to meet each year, they leave the decision of how to teach and most of the decisions of exactly what to teach to the states and individual schools.
About the Author: Dana Elmore is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world’s largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.