A Standard Is a Standard Is a Standard!

Standard-based soup

With apologies to Gertrude Stein, “A standard is a standard is a standard.” A standard doesn’t have content or a point of view. It is a framework that provides guidance for the academic program. Regardless of which state standards are guiding principles for your curriculum and regardless of the grade or disciplinary areas in the curriculum, teachers have to decide what strategies to use to address the process and content standards using their curricular content as the vehicle.

The implementation of the Common Core State Standards (which 45 states, Washington, DC, and three territories originally adopted between 2010 and 2011) is not going as smooth as the designers had planned. The political climate has clouded the public’s perception of the national standards and in debates in state legislatures the CCSS is being labeled “federal overreach.” There has been a pushback from organizations representing parents, and the opinion of classroom teachers about the balance of rigorous standards and high-stakes testing has been very clear and consistent. In addition, the two federally funded organizations created to design tests aligned to the CCSS, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) have seen many states drop out of the consortium, citing high costs or concerns about effectiveness.

States that signed on to the Common Core State Standards accepted that the CCSS will account for 100% of the total number of standards in a subject area, meaning that states have the option to identify as much as 15% in additional standards once they have adopted the CCSS verbatim. Because of this “15 Percent Rule” many states have what they refer to as their own “State Standards”. An exact number of states is elusive as policy at the state-level is changing due to the results of the 2014 mid-term elections. However, it is important to remember that the states that have adopted the “15 Percent Rule” rule are still using standards that are 100 percent of the original Common Core. The states have added standards that tend to fit into a specific area of concern for their state standards leaders.

For example, New York State added standards, primarily in Reading Literature Standards, that require readers to recognize and make cultural connections to the text and to themselves. Indiana and Massachusetts have added for standards for handwriting to their Writing and Language Anchors. Minnesota has added an additional Speaking and Listening Anchor Standard entitled Viewing, Listening and Media Literacy.

Concerning other states that declined to participate in the Common Core, Virginia, for example, documents on their website say, paraphrasing, “Both the CCSS and SOL (Student Learning Standards) emphasize all modes of writing with modes or text types covered in the CCSS writing strand.” In fact, many of the CCSS Writing Standards are almost identical from grade to grade.

Texas has their own standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and in a move that seems designed to solve a political vs. educational problem, the Texas State Legislature passed a law prohibiting the state or local districts from using Common Core Standards. Despite these concerns driven by emotional public debate, some Texas educators concede, “They are really similar in a lot of ways.” Randy Bomer, Curriculum and Instruction Chair at UT’s College of Education, says “They emphasize what they call college and career readiness. That tends to be an emphasis on non-fiction texts and writing about texts as opposed to writing about other kinds of topics, like life.”

Carol Ann Tomlinson develops the metaphor that “Standards are not dinner. They are ingredients.” Extending the metaphor, Tomlinson continues to say that educational standards are like the federal government’s food pyramid– the ideal. Yet, with the standards framework in place, the curriculum specifics that teachers decide to teach, are like the ingredients for the meal, aligned to the standards, but different every day, every week, every semester. The meal that is created from the ingredients are similar to the strategies that teachers use to deliver or “serve” the standards-based curriculum.

If a chef takes the variety of ingredients in front of him and boils them in a pot and serves it in a soup bowl, every time, everyday, regardless of the rich variety of food available to him, it would be reasonable to conclude that this chef might want to learn some new recipes. The same is true of teachers. They are eager to work with fresh, high-interest, high involvement strategies that make the literacy skills come alive. In fact, the classroom teacher who delivers a varied, standards-based curriculum, using the same classroom strategies, day-after-day, more often than not, welcomes a few new “recipes” to freshen and heighten their instruction.

Regardless of which state teachers are working in, the standards are the guiding principles for their curriculum, regardless of the grade or the curriculum focus, teachers have to decide what strategies to use to teach the content. With that clarification, school leaders and classroom teachers can be assured that the material presented to support the teachers’ instructional work with students, is based on student learning standards of the highest quality.

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