The ELA Common Core Initiative: How Cross-Content Competencies Will Impact Your Students

By Hampton, Sally | District Administration, November-December 2009 | Go to article overview

The ELA Common Core Initiative: How Cross-Content Competencies Will Impact Your Students


Hampton, Sally, District Administration


WITHIN THE COMMON CORE State Standards Initiative, I facilitated the working group charged with the development of a new generation of English-language arts (ELA) standards that would be fewer, clearer, higher, evidence-based, and internationally benchmarked. Moreover, these standards would address the realities of the kinds of reading, writing, speaking and listening required for success in college or the workplace.

These three strands--reading, writing, and speaking and listening--each ask for substantial change on the part of schools. All set a high bar, but I will discuss only the reading strand here to illustrate the rigor of the targets that students must meet.

An Emphasis on Comprehension

In the newly proposed Common Core document there are 18 reading comprehension standards and five accompanying standards that specify the range and content of student reading. The reading standards are also accompanied by exemplar texts to illustrate the level of complexity students should be able to comprehend independently. There are sample assignments related to these exemplar texts that show the depth of understanding expected from reading (and writing or speaking) tasks.

The exemplar texts come from science, history, the workplace, and other nonfiction sources, as well as literature. In choosing these exemplars, the working group attempted to be mindful not just of academic or work-related content that students encounter, but to include as well the reading done in everyday life. One exemplar, for example, comes from The New York Times, another from a Web version of that newspaper, and another from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco's Web site.

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These reading standards will present a huge challenge for students. To meet the standards, students will need to perform a variety of complex comprehension tasks independently, whereas now students typically perform such tasks either with significant scaffolding from a teacher or with texts that are not especially challenging.

Why This Emphasis

These reading standards represent a radical and decisive change from business as usual. …

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