Over the last two weeks, we’ve looked closely at the implied and explicit specifications the CCSS documents offer us as we work to select informational texts for instruction and classroom libraries. In our third reason, Consider the Research, we reference the Moss & Newton study (2002) that is cited in Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards for ELA . The note at the bottom of that post mentions that the Appendix A references to the Moss & Newton research are less than complete. For today’s Thursday Thought, we offer this post, A Close Reading of the Common Core’s Informational Text Recommendations (Part 1) and (Part 2). In these posts, we rather exhaustively analyze the research cited in support of the CCSS authors’ emphasis on informational text.
For the last few days, we’ve explored the role of non-narrative informational text in CCSS instruction and classroom libraries, paying particular attention to the roles of biography and autobiography relative to the other five expository/informational text structures–procedural, descriptive, compare/contrast, cause/effect, and problem/solution (see this post for an explanation of why there are six informational text structures vs. the traditional five). Today, we use a research lens to look at the role of non-narrative, informational text structures.
Reason #3: Consider the Research
The CCSS were developed around a body of research, which is summarized in Appendix A. Appendix A has its issues and, consequently, was not adopted by states. Regardless, Appendix A still presents the research upon which the CCSS were written, whether we like it or not, which means that it is still relevant and informative. Appendix A offers us insight into what the authors of the CCSS were thinking as they decided to include, and not to include, certain instructional topics, for better or for worse.
The most prominent Appendix A research cited in reference to students reading informational texts was conducted by Moss and Newton (2002) and it examines the percentage of nonfiction texts used in classrooms. Appendix A makes this reference to the Moss and Newton study:
What is more, students today are asked to read very little expository text—as little as 7 and 15 percent of elementary and middle school instructional reading, for example, is expository (Hoffman, Sabo, Bliss, & Hoy, 1994; Moss & Newton, 2002; Yopp & Yopp, 2006)–(Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, Appendix A, p. 3)
Interestingly, Moss and Newton did not include narrative nonfiction, such as biographies and autobiographies, in their calculations of classroom reading material at all!* So, the research most central to the CCSS author’s identification of the need to read more informational text did not even include narrative nonfiction, such as biographies and autobiographies. While, we must rely on the literal definition of informational text as it is presented in the CCSS …
Includes biographies and autobiographies; books about history, social studies, science, and the arts; technical texts, including directions, forms, and information displayed in graphs, charts, or maps; and digital sources on a range of topics
… we might logically presume that the CCSS authors intended to minimize the roles of biography and autobiography in informational text instruction, since they were responding to the research conducted by Moss and Newton, which didn’t include any narrative nonfiction at all.
Furthermore, the primary intent of the authors of the CCSS was to help students become “college and career ready,” hence the title “College and Career Ready Standards.” But what does this mean and where did this idea come from? One of the sources of the “College and Career Ready” label was a study of the reading that adults do on their jobs and the conclusion that, based on Moss and Newton and others, most of what students are reading in school (particularly high school) looks very different from what they will read as adults. The informational text CCSS shift is towards teaching students how to read texts that look more like what they will probably have to read to get a good job and support their families.
One could reasonably argue, and we think the point is valid, that there are many careers that require people to read narrative informational texts, even narrative nonfiction, such as biography and autobiography. Students may grow up to be English professors, publishers, historians, novelists, or owners of the independent bookstore in their neighborhood. That said, however, these professions represent a vast minority of careers, and the CCSS do not suggest that elementary students can’t read narrative nonfiction books, simply that there needs to be a balance, which requires an increase in text that is information dense.
For today’s library exploration and analysis, look at the books in your classroom library that are not written with a narrative structure, whether fiction or nonfiction. What does your collection of books with procedural, cause/effect, compare/contrast, problem/solution, or descriptive structures look like? Gather with some colleagues and see what titles you have or can collectively come up with, paying particular attention to informational texts with structures other than chronological. Visit your school or public library and look for more titles. Also, look for chronological titles that present events or periods of time, rather than the life of an individual. What do you notice about the collections of books? What do you need to add to your library?
*Note: The Appendix A interpretations of the research by Moss & Newton are not particularly thorough. For a complete analysis of the Moss & Newton research see our series of posts, A Close Reading of the Common Core’s Informational Text Recommendations
Moss, B., & Newton, E. (2002). An examination of the informational text genre in basal readers. Reading Psychology, 23(1), 1–13.
We are marking our nation’s birthday by celebrating with our families, so we are taking the rest of the week off from blogging. We leave you with a patriotic book recommendation: 50 American Heroes Every Kid Should Meet. What is cool about this book is that it broadly defines “hero” and represents heroic Americans from an array of fields. It includes musicians, artists, writers, politicians, explorers, inventers, and more across all of American history. Each hero is presented in a two-page spread, which includes biographical information, photos, quotes, and suggestions for further reading. The best part is that each hero has an “Explore” section and some even have an “Explore Some More Section.” These sections tell the reader how to find out more about the hero; most include addresses for writing to get information through the mail. Both writing to request information and reading the information that arrives, can serve Common Core purposes, while also enticing students to learn more about these great Americans. The two-page spreads would also work well for shared reading texts to pair with other biographies related fiction about the historical figure.
Happy Fourth of July! We’ll “see” you next week.
Today we launch a two-part series exploring the research and ideas behind the “staircase of complexity.” To begin, we want to introduce a vernacular that we use as we consider a piece of CCSS research. For us, we put a piece of research into one of three categories: What?, Why?, and How?
“What? research” identifies what the authors of the CCSS feel is wrong in K-12 education, arriving at a problem statement, or the reason we might need a particular standard. “Why? research,” presents hypotheses for explaining why the problem exists. Finally, “How? Research” offers evidence of how a problem might (or might not) be solved, which generally translates into an anchor standard or a related, grade-specific standard.
Each of these categories of research played an important role in the development of the CCSS, and each holds specific limitations. Today, we explore a key study behind the idea of the staircase of complexity, “Aligning the Journey with the Destination: A Model for K-16 Reading Standards” (Williamson; 2006; MetaMetrics, Inc.). This study is both referenced directly in multiple documents and parts of the study are mentioned (without specific reference to the title or author) repeatedly. If you have watched any of the videos on EngageNY, you have heard David Coleman, the “architect and co-author of the standards (p. 2)” say something like:
…the standards must be college and career ready. They must from kindergarten through 12th grade create a staircase for college and career readiness….But the crucial design principle that informed our work is that we had to build a staircase that kids could follow. (p.4)
Such language connects directly to this MetaMetrics, Inc. study.
Two themes are repeated across CCSS videos, written transcripts, PowerPoints, and the standards documents. If you have experienced any kind of orientation to the CCSS, you have likely heard these:
- Current high school graduates are not ready for college and career.
- We have to figure out what graduates should be able to read to be successful in college and career and work backwards grade-by-grade to figure out what kindergarteners need to read.
The MetaMetrics, Inc. document addresses both of these issues and uses a lot of the language you will hear consistently in the CCSS videos, etc. This document seems to form the backbone of the third of the six shifts, or the shift in “text complexity,” which understandably arouses much interest from educators. So if you don’t read any other piece of research behind the CCSS, read this one.
A Close Reading of the MetaMetrics, Inc. Study
In the following paragraphs, we present specific quotes from the MetaMetrics study and then offer some commentary. Throughout this section, our thoughts are the non-italicized portions and follow each italicized quote from the article.
p.1: Two threads of recent research provide one possible way of developing and aligning (or at least informing the discussion about) student achievement standards for K-16.
The phrases “one possible way” and “at least informing” seem to imply the author’s reservations about making big decisions based on this research.
pp. 1-2: First, Williamson (2006a) elaborated a continuum of text demands for postsecondary endeavors. His work demonstrated substantial differences between the materials that high school students are expected to read and the materials they may encounter after high school….Secondly, Williamson, Thompson and Baker (2006b) described actual growth in reading ability for five successive cohorts of students who were followed longitudinally for six years.
Williamson is referring to himself and colleagues in this quote. You will notice that the two studies mentioned align to the two threads of research mentioned in the introduction of this blog, and to the two, aforementioned, key ideas that are pervasive in the CCSS. The two Williamson studies (2006a, 2006b) offer us an analysis of the text demands for college and career reading and a year-by-year trajectory of student reading growth. These studies are referenced and linked at the bottom of this article.
p. 2: These two sources of information might be used in concert to effect growth standards that are coordinated across the K-16 timeframe.
In terms of the first study (2006a), Williamson evaluated the text level of an array of postsecondary reading materials: undergraduate admissions tests, military materials, workplace materials (an independent analysis of over 1400 different workplace reading samples), community college and university texts, and citizenship materials.
p. 2: A key feature of these two sets of results is the fact that both the readability of the texts and the students’ reading ability are measured with the same scale, The Lexile Framework for Reading. The Lexile scale is the only known scale that allows both text and reader measures to be made on the same developmental scale. This is critical, because it is what makes it possible to combine both analyses in the same picture for K-16.
Basically, Williamson seems to be describing the heart of the CCSS, college and career readiness defined by postsecondary text levels, with analysis of student reading levels articulated as benchmarks for reaching college and career readiness goals. Williamson explains that combining these two studies is only possible because Lexiles® are designed to measure both the text levels in the first study and the student reading levels in the second study, hence allowing a seamless alignment between the two. It is worth mentioning that MetaMetrics owns Lexiles.
p. 3: We will focus on a cohort of 67,908 North Carolina public school students who were third graders in 1999 and who progressed to the eighth grade by 2004. These students remained within North Carolina Schools for all six years and had complete histories of reading achievement data….The growth in reading ability of these students from the end of third grade to the end of eighth grade is well described by a quadratic growth curve, depicted in figure 1.
It is important to note that the data in this study does not include any data for k-2 or 9-12 students. Wikipedia offers this simple definition definition of a quadratic growth curve (not to suggest that quadratic growth curves are simple) : “In plain and simple English, quadratic growth is growth where the rate of change changes at a constant rate. For example, if you add 3 the first time, then you add 3.5 the next time, and 4 the time after that, that is quadratic growth. In this case, you added 0.5 to your rate of change each time.” Thus, the study by MetaMetrics suggests a consistent rate of change as you move up grade-levels from Kindergarten through grade twelve.
p.3: Extrapolated K-12 Growth Curve with Media Postsecondary Text Measures (header)
This is the header for the section that estimates K-2 and 9-12 student reading levels based on the 3-8 data. As we mentioned before, there was no data for K-2 or 9-12.
p. 3: The curve in figure 1 was estimated with an advanced statistical technique called multilevel modeling….with some caution, the quadratic equation that characterizes the curve through the range of observed data might be used to estimate [emphasis added] average performance before third grade and after eighth grade.
Williamson explains that there is a statistical technique that lets a researcher estimate data points where none were available, i.e. in this case, K-3 and 9-12.
p.3: It is important to note that this is a risky procedure, for at least two reasons. First, there are no actual data to check our assumption that growth from grades K-2 and grades 9-12 can be described by the same quadratic equation that describes growth from grades 3-8.
As far as the first concern, how does one respond to a statement that there is “no actual data?” , particular when this non-data has formed the basis of a big idea influencing instructional decisions across the country. The second concern is a statistical one, that appears to be moot. We are by no means experts in quadratic equations!
p.5: The farther one goes from the observed data (grades 3-8), the more one has to bear in mind the provisional nature of the projections.
This is saying that the extrapolation to kindergarten and to twelfth grade are less likely to be accurate than those in second and fourth grades, simply because the third-grade estimates are the farthest away from the actual data, etc.
p. 6: Since the growth curve expresses student performance as a function of grade, it lays out a path (also conveying expectations, potential standards) for academic growth throughout the entire K-12 experience….This approach produces information that is potentially useful to educational leaders and policy makers who face the challenge of creating better alignment between the K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions of higher education in the United States.
This seems to be a basic summary of the CCSS.
We have not read the original two studies from Williamson, but the citations are at the end of this article. We assume that there is a more detailed version of this study in existence, as one could hardly capture the data for thousands of students in just six pages.
There are some interesting pieces to this study, and the sample size is compelling. Nevertheless, the use of one study, much less one study that engages a “risky” procedure to extrapolate in lieu of actual data, seems a questionable foundation for the staircase of complexity. While other research informs the development of the staircase, this is the only study that considers the actual connectedness across grades and the idea of beginning with the end in mind, ideas which appear to have no research behind them.
We categorize this study as “How?” research, because it informs the actual implementation of the CCSS and the development of the standards.
1. We are not saying that letting your students read more complex text is a bad idea. We think that engaging them in text that make them think more is a good idea. We just question the neatness of the the staircase of complexity and implications that this staircase is based on solid science.
2. We make mistakes. If we have misread some portion of this study or have overlooked a piece of research, please let us know! We count on you to help us.
Tomorrow, we will look at the staircase of complexity through a less scientific lens and don’t forget to sign up for our webinar on Wednesday, January 16 at 4:30 EST!
Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards for ELA and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects: Research Supporting Key Elements of the Standards
Other Related References
Williamson, G. L. (2006a, April). Student readiness for postsecondary endeavors. Paper presented at the 2006 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), San Francisco:
We appreciate this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. because sticking with love is something that one decides to do. It isn’t accidental, and it isn’t easy. The alternative, however, is unproductive.
As we write on Burkins & Yaris and move deeper into analyzing the Common Core State Standards, we wrestle with concerns about being misunderstood. We don’t want our energy to stock the quivers of those who aim to shoot at anyone they see simply for the sake of trafficking on the contention they can arouse in the field. While we can’t be responsible for how people use our posts, we can at least work to communicate the context in which we choose to write.
The following describes our driving values as writers, educators, humans. These represent the better people we are constantly struggling to discover within ourselves. This is who we want to be when we grow up.
Who We Want to Be
We want to be people who assume that every human being has an individual quest to exist on this planet in ways that accomplish his/her individual goals. This means that everyone, absolutely everyone (you, us, bloggers, parents, administrators, politicians, crafters of educational policy, etc.) will do some things right and some things less right.
We accept that to choose to exist is to choose to make mistakes, and to choose to make a difference is to choose to normalize these mistakes.
We want to assume goodwill when people make mistakes, and we work to take this goodwill into our analyses of the Common Core State Standards. This does not mean that issues we find in the Common Core are more or less problematic than they would be if we did not assume goodwill; bad mistakes are still bad. It just distinguishes the actions of those creating less than perfect situations from their intrinsic worth as humans.
For us in general and for this blog in particular, our intent is to identify mistakes when we feel it is truly necessary, without trying to push perceptions of the humans who made the mistakes outside the realm of what defines a person as good. So we struggle to be people who understand, even accept, the deliberate or inadvertent mistakes perpetuated by all of us (including the authors of the Common Core State Standards), understanding that such errors make us human, not evil.
We want to stick to love.
Postscript: We couldn’t resist putting in a link to this song by Barry Lane, Know Your Higher Self. 🙂