What Teachers Say About the Common Core ELA Standards

In this Education Gadfly article, Chester Finn and Kathleen Porter-Magee report on a study of English language arts teachers in states implementing the Common Core standards. Researchers asked what students were being asked to read and what instructional techniques were being used in classrooms. Of particular interest were three instructional shifts called for by the Common Core:

  • Building students’ knowledge through content-rich nonfiction and informational texts;
  • Asking students to ground their reading and writing in evidence from the text, not just personal reflections;
  • Encouraging regular practice with complex texts and academic vocabulary.

These shifts, say Finn and Porter-Magee, “correct the fact that, for too many years, students have had little access to the kinds of literary nonfiction and informational texts they need to prepare them for the rigor of advanced coursework in college and beyond.” The new standards also push teachers to expose students to more-demanding texts throughout the year, not just try to get students reading grade-level texts by June. 

The study found some hopeful signs: most teachers surveyed believe in the standards, are cautiously optimistic that they’ll make a positive difference, are getting PD support, and are making some curriculum shifts in response to Common Core. But researchers saw three areas of challenge in the years ahead:

• Teachers reported that most of their lessons were still dominated by reading skill instruction, rather than the content of texts.

• Many teachers, especially at the elementary level, were still having students read texts at their instructional reading level rather than challenging them to wrestle with grade-level texts. “This means that many youngsters are not yet working with appropriately complex language in their schoolbooks,” say Finn and Porter-Magee.

• Many teachers (56 percent in the middle grades) hadn’t started teaching the kind of literary nonfiction – speeches and essays, for example – recommended in the Common Core. 

“Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments” by Chester Finn Jr. and Kathleen Porter-Magee in The Education Gadfly, Oct. 24, 2013 (Vol. 13, #41), 

http://www.edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-weekly#56284 

From the Marshall Memo #508

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