Common Core Curriculum and Complex Texts

Article excerpt

From primary to secondary to higher education, reading and reading comprehension remain the lynchpins of a successful American education.

But they are also where most of our failures in education lie. Throughout the United States, we have leveled reading. We have computerized reading. We have delineated reading lists. We have even depredated reading to an assigned number of pages per grading period.

Experts will tell us that reading is the most critical skill that a student needs to be successful in college and the workplace. And yet, of incoming college freshmen, 51% read at a remedial level. Studies have found that American students start out as good readers, but by the time they are ready to go to college they no longer possess the skills for deeper reading. And while K-12 textbooks are now written at a simpler level, periodicals, journal articles, and other reading materials have become more complex. Even the newspaper is harder to read than the typical student textbook.


Now with the state-led efforts of the National Common Core Curriculum (NCCC/Standards movement for math and English/Language Arts, education has reenergized the importance of reading across the curriculum. Thirty-seven states, territories, and the District of Columbia have now adopted these standards.

Created to align with the 2009 College and Career Readiness standards, NCCC standards were developed by using best practices evidence from a variety of states. The goal of NCCC workgroups was to create a system of standards that focused on a consistent end result, unlike our current system of standards, which differ from state to state. With a crosscurriculum emphasis, these core curriculum standards staircase growing text complexity, an increased use of technology for sharing information and concepts, and a content- rich curriculum which assures smoother grade-to-grade progression. Initially, national experts formed workgroups that fleshed out the national standards. Now, state level workgroups are in the process of developing working documents for their state and school districts with the overall goal of implementation by 2014.

Today the societal given is that all students must go to college to be career ready for a global workplace. Therefore, inherent to the NCCC standards is the idea of college and career readiness. "The Common Core State standards for K-12 derive from these particular standards," said Sally Hampton, Senior Fellow at America's Choice and chair of the English and Language Arts portion of the College and Career Readiness Standards Workgroup (S. Hampton, personal communication, November 11, 2010). As a member of the ELA K-12 Common Core Standards committee, Hampton explained that the goal of the workgroup was the use of those standards as their designated "end point," that is the skill sets that K-12 kids need to meet in order to be college and career ready.


But what do students graduating from high school actually need to be prepared to make these steps? The answer to this question is our old friend: deeper reading. In addition to the 2005 ACT-test finding that only 51% of high school graduates were ready for college-level reading, the data also showed that the clearest indicator in reading between those students who are ready versus those who were not was their ability to comprehend complex texts. Strangely, they were more ready in the 10th grade than when they graduated (ACT Educational Services 2006).

Further, college textbooks have increasingly gotten more complex, and workplace reading tends to exceed a grade 12 complexity level. College professors increasingly assign more readings from periodicals than most high school teachers do. Finally, word difficulty in scientific journals and magazines has increased exponentially. On the flip side, K-12 textbooks have essentially trended downward in their complexity, while in the classroom students are asked to read less and less. …