You know those movies about viral outbreaks where the scientists are on a race to find out the origins of a contagion? You know the ones, where the researchers are looking for the first primate that was sick or the location of the mosquito that bit the first human that became sick with the disease that started armageddon? Well, Appendix A represents that first germ of the Common Core contagion, or at least its origins are early in the viral spread of college-and-career-ready thinking, as represented in this document, Aspects of Text Complexity: Why Text Complexity Matters (Liben, 2010), which appears to be an early version of Appendix A.
Our earliest work with the Common Core State Standards dug deep into Appendix A. In fact, concerns about inaccurate statements about the percentage of informational text use in classrooms today led us to discover some significant issues with the scholarship of Appendix A. (See A Close Read of the Common Core’s Informational Text Recommendations, Part 1)
Appendix A, however, was not adopted by the states that did adopt the Common Core State Standards. However, what “not adopted” really means is rather nebulous, although it seems safe to assume that the heft behind Appendix A was lightened and it was demoted to optional-ish once it assumed its “Not Adopted” title.
Conversations supported by literacy leaders, such as Lucy Calkins and Janet Allen, have reasonably suggested that we stick with the Common Core proper, as these actual standards describe what educators are to teach but leave how they will teach up to schools and districts. This makes sense to us, for the most part.
However, as we dig into the work of PARCC (The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), the organization responsible for developing the assessment that 20 states will administer to gauge how well they are teaching the standards, it seems that a Frankenstein monster, Appendix A, is alive and roaming the countryside. PARCC has developed a set of instructional frameworks that are to support educators in preparing for the tests that they, PARCC, is creating with the $186 million grant it received from the U.S. Department of Education. It seems that PARCC is riding squarely on the shoulders of Appendix A, perhaps even more so than the actual standards, as denoted in this statement in the PARCC frameworks currently open for review and feedback:
As described below, the four sections capture the key emphases within the standards for reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language (including vocabulary). These emphases reflect the research basis for the standards found in Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards. These emphases will also be reflected on PARCC assessments (No emphasis added.). (PARCC, p. 4)
The PARCC Model Content Frameworks for ELA/Literacy are intended to serve as an instructional bridge between the Common Core, which doesn’t tell how to teach, and the accountability measures associated with them, which will measure that which was taught. So, while the Common Core clearly states that the how of aligned instruction is up for discussion and professional interpretation, the particular how, as presented by PARCC, is directly linked to the assessment what with which educators and students in 20 states will be evaluated and is explicitly connected to (drumroll, please….) Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards.
We all know that assessment drives instruction. Now it is even connected to teacher compensation. So, A = B = C … then if Appendix A is flawed = the standards are flawed = student assessment is flawed ….