Missouri's Math, English Language Arts Standards Don't Make the Grade

By Northern, Amber M.; Petrilli, Michael J. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), September 11, 2018 | Go to article overview

Missouri's Math, English Language Arts Standards Don't Make the Grade


Northern, Amber M., Petrilli, Michael J., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


In spring 2016, Missouri adopted new standards in math and English language arts after having made the decision to "un-adopt" the Common Core. In doing so, the state was well within its rights. But Missouri also has a responsibility to make sure its math and English language arts standards are strong, clear and rigorous. And on that count, it fell short.

Academic standards are the foundation upon which much of public education rests. They dictate the knowledge and skills that students are expected to master, grade by grade, and communicate those expectations to educators, parents, curriculum writers and other stakeholders. That's why we at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute have been reviewing state standards for over 20 years. These benchmarks shape much of what students do and learn during the school year now underway.

In our most recent review, which we published last month, our team of subject-matter experts conferred low scores on both Missouri's English language arts standards and its math standards, with the former earning an overall rating of "inadequate" and the latter earning a slighter higher, but nonetheless poor, rating of "weak." In other words, both sets of standards need to be overhauled, the sooner the better.

When it comes to English language arts, the standards do not require that students read particular texts, including any number of literary classics or historical documents (such as "To Kill a Mockingbird," Shakespeare and the Declaration of Independence). Nor do they specify broad categories of literature with which students should be familiar (e.g., mythology, American literature or British literature).

This lack of specificity means that what students are to read is left to an individual teacher's discretion. Such an approach raises questions about equity and access, failing to ensure that all students are exposed to equally rigorous and engaging material across classrooms. And more broadly, it ignores the importance of shared knowledge in a democracy.

Likewise, though the standards indicate that, "as students mature and grow as readers, the text level should become more complex," they fail to provide teachers with guidance about how to evaluate the complexity and appropriateness of a text for a particular grade level. Hence, what is considered "grade-level appropriate" in one school or district may be vastly different from what is read and discussed in another. …

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