Today we continue responding to the Model Content Frameworks for ELA/Literacy from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Yesterday we shared points 1-4. Today we offer six more insights into this complex text. Hint: Number 9 is in red because it warrants close attention!
5. The instructional frameworks from PARCC begin in third grade, presumably because K-2 are not slated for inclusion in the PARCC assessments. We are concerned, nevertheless, that excluding K-2 from the instructional conversation will lead elementary schools to invest their resources most heavily in grades 3-5, a practice which leaves us solving the same problems over and over again as this year’s first graders become another year’s third graders. As demonstrated by the NCLB days, an upper elementary focus leaves elementary schools chasing their proverbial tails. While PARCC’s intent probably is not to neglect K-2, failing to include them heavily in the conversation promises the same miscommunication as the Common Core folks putting all their marketing energies into informational text reading. It creates the misguided perception of an imbalance that people then act upon.
6. There appears to be divided emphases in PARCC, and perhaps in the Common Core State Standards, which harken back to the tired thinking of “Learn to read in K-2. Read to learn in 3-5.” It seems that foundational skills carry more weight in K-2, while reading for meaning is launched in earnest in third grade. We perceive that some of the politics of reading are at play here. We would like to remind the authors of PARCC that the lack of emphasis on reading for meaning in elementary grades does not mean that students are waiting to practice comprehension. Rather, it means that they are practicing not paying attention to meaning as they read. We maintain that, from the very earliest reading experiences, students should be taught to think deeply about what they are reading. The challenge, of course, is finding texts that offer appropriate print demands while promoting deep thinking (See our Think Books for an example of how to do this!).
7. Each grade-level’s section in the PARCC frameworks has two “standards progression charts” which color code the changes in the writing standards and the speaking and listening standards from one grade to the next. We find these tables very helpful!
8. On page 12 of the PARCC frameworks, in the section describing the framework for third grade, the document reads: “Two new Writing Standards (W.3.4 and W.3.10) are introduced in grade 3. They call for students to develop and organize writing in a manner appropriate to the task and purpose and to write routinely for a range of timeframes and contexts.” As elementary educators, we think of writing “routinely” as developing writing habits. We think of writing workshop. We think of children writing daily for purposes that continue from one day to the next. We think the standards listed above still support this idea, however, the framework later describes “Routine Writing”:
Routine writing, such as short constructed-responses to text-dependent questions, builds content knowledge and provides opportunities for reflection on a specific aspect of a text or texts. Routine written responses to such text-dependent questions allow students to build sophisticated understandings of vocabulary, text structure and content and to develop needed proficiencies in analysis. (pp. 14-15)
This is the complete description of “routine writing,” as offered in the PARCC frameworks, with no mention of process approaches or other practices that may take place routinely. Our concern is that reading only to answer teacher- (or other-) developed questions will become the backbone of reading and writing instruction.
The related writing standard is standard 10, which begins in third grade as the “Range of Writing” standard and continues without change or elaboration through grade 12: “Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.”
Basically, our concern is that there is very little “range” to the writing described as routine in PARCC. We don’t want children completing pages and pages of worksheets in response to their reading and in lieu of their writing.
9. This seems the most critical point so far! As described above (point 8), the PARCC framework recommends “Routine writing, such as short constructed-responses to text-dependent questions” explaining that such writing allows “students to build sophisticated understandings of vocabulary, text structure and content and to develop needed proficiencies in analysis.” The document does not, however, include any research citations to support this assertion. Rather, it states:
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)
With the described “routine writing” as a case in point, the PARCC framework relies on the Appendix A research, which does not, however, cite any research in support of students writing “short constructed responses to text-dependent questions.” It appears that the content in the PARCC framework is either 1) supported by research in Appendix A; 2) supported by research in the footnotes of the PARCC framework, or 3) presumed supported in Appendix A, when Appendix A actually makes no mention of it.
10. Given that one of PARCC’s two, explicitly stated purposes is to inform the “development of item specifications and blueprints for the PARCC assessments in grades 3-8 and high school” (p.3), it is not surprising (although it is very disconcerting), that the instruction PARCC is recommending looks a lot like a test!