Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

The Common Core Writing Standards: A Descriptive Study of Content and Alignment with A Sample of Former State Standards

Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

The Common Core Writing Standards: A Descriptive Study of Content and Alignment with A Sample of Former State Standards

Article excerpt

Standards-based reform efforts aim to increase student achievement through specification of academic content standards that alter what occurs in classrooms (Hamilton & Stecher, 2006; Stecher, Hamilton, & Gonzalez, 2003). Cohen (1995) argues that the ultimate goal of standards-based reforms is a positive impact on teaching in order to improve student learning by leveraging top-down support for these changes, primarily through the alignment of policies related to teacher professional development, assessment and accountability measures, and challenging content standards. Content standards provide the basis for coherence among all of the standards-based reform elements. These standards are designed to guide curriculum development and subsequent instruction, to help teachers set instructional priorities and goals, to provide clear expectations for student achievement at each grade, and to raise expectations for performance.

There is evidence, though limited, that states' content standards have some influence on student outcomes via their impact on classroom instruction. For instance, the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, which conducted a longitudinal study in the late 1990s to examine schools' and districts' response to standards-based accountability policies, found that state and local entities with well-developed content standards and accountability systems provided a clear focus for improving student outcomes (Goertz, 2001; Massell, 2001). Other studies, mostly in the domains of math and science, have found that curriculum aligned with standards is related to improved student outcomes (Carroll, 1997; Isaacs, Carroll, & Bell, 2001; Reys, Reys, Lapan, Holliday, & Wasman, 2003). Additionally, in one study teachers who reported aligning their instruction with standards had students who demonstrated higher achievement (Stone & Lane, 2000).

It follows that the variability of standards across states would be expected to explain some of the variance in teaching and learning across the nation (e.g., Duke, 2001; Dutro & Valencia, 2004; Spillane, 1998; Spillane & Jennings, 1997). The promulgation of a single set of academic content standards for the nation through the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has significant implications for teacher preparation and professional development, curriculum materials, and classroom pedagogy. The CCSS for English language arts have been formally adopted and implemented by 44 states and the District of Columbia; Alaska, Indiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia have elected to not adopt the new standards.

The CCSS need to be thoroughly evaluated for their content for three reasons. First, standards can be expected to effectively guide curriculum and instruction (and thus impact student achievement) only if they are wellarticulated, comprehensive, and based on theoretical models of learning specific to the content being taught. Second, if the CCSS and existing state standards are not well aligned, states may be forced to adopt different curricular materials, adjust when specific aspects of content are addressed, rebalance content foci within grades, and make substantial changes to their professional development programs. Third, like most policy tools, the CCSS are dynamic rather than static and will undergo future revision based on content analyses and input from the field as the standards are enacted and student performance indices are tracked to insure that the intent of the developers to establish a set of rigorous and research-based standards that will prepare students for college and the workplace is fully realized.

Using varied means, a growing number of stakeholders have evaluated the CCSS. For instance, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (Carmichael, Martino, Porter-Magee, & Wilson, 2010) has noted that (a) a number of the CCSS are repetitive across grades and do not specify a clearly delineated progression of rigor and (b) some core standards are too vague to guide instruction (e. …

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