Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

INVESTIGATING THE LANGUAGE DEMANDS IN THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS A Comparison Study of Standards

Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

INVESTIGATING THE LANGUAGE DEMANDS IN THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS A Comparison Study of Standards

Article excerpt

Since the publication of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2010, educational reform efforts to institute common standards and assessment systems across the states have been moving forward at an ambitious pace. The vast majority of states have formally adopted the CCSS and begun to implement them into instruction as early as the 2012-2013 school year. The CCSS call upon states to derive 85% of their local educational standards from the CCSS, with the remaining 15% set aside for state-specific standards (Common Core State Standards Initiative, http:// www. corestandards. org/).

While the CCSS have generally been praised by educational stakeholders and researchers for their academic rigor and high quality, implementation of the standards and development of linked assessments are inarguably immense undertakings. Particularly challenging is the task of implementing the standards with English language learner (ELL) students who must access academic content throughout the curriculum while developing their English skills simultaneously. The authors of the CCSS note that it will take additional time, appropriate instructional support, and aligned assessments for ELL students to be held to the same high expectations of content knowledge and skills that English-only students are held to in the CCSS (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010b).

The characteristics of the CCSS reflect increased academic rigor and emphasis on skills for college and career readiness. As one illustration of this emphasis, the CCSS for English language arts (CCSS-ELA) call upon students to demonstrate academic abilities such as (1) close reading of complex informational texts, (2) analytic and logical writing of information and arguments, (3) research skills, and (4) effective presentation and academic discussion to build knowledge, evaluate information, and express opinions (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010a). Moreover, the CCSS include a separate set of standards for disciplinary literacy (i.e., literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects), bringing the heavy language demands of the CCSS in all content areas to the fore and signaling challenges for ELL students.

As a point of departure, we assume that, in order to effectively implement the CCSS in ELL instruction, it is important to understand the similarities and differences between the language demands of the CCSS and the various existing state ELA and English language proficiency (ELP) standards. In this way, educators and researchers will fully understand the implications of the new standards and the changes they will require. Thus, the purpose of the present study is to critically review the language demands embodied in the CCSS so as to compare them with current and previous state ELA and ELP standards documents.

Additionally, this study reports on an investigation of teacher interpretations of the CCSS and their perceptions of the challenges they face in implementing the standards with ELL students. There is an urgent need for resource materials to help ELLs meet these challenging standards. It is anticipated that educators will find the study's findings useful as they seek to understand the instructional implications of the new standards and plan for their effective implementation with ELL students.

Specifically, the following research questions are addressed in this study:

1. What are the areas of similarity and difference between the CCSS-ELA and other state ELA and ELP standards in terms of language use skills and tasks?

2. What language skills and tasks are required of ELL students to meet the CCSS-ELA?

3. How do ESL and ELA teachers interpret the CCSS-ELA and perceive the challenges ELL students face in meeting the CCSS-ELA?

In order to investigate these questions, three major research activities were undertaken: (1) the development of a coding scheme of language skills and tasks derived from an analysis of the CCSS-ELA, (2) a comparison analysis (using the aforementioned coding scheme) of the CCSS-ELA and three states' ELA and ELP standards, and (3) a small-scale focus group interview and survey with local ELA and English-as-a-second-language (ESL) teachers. …

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