It is most appropriate that the first presentation in TextProject’s Virtual Institute on Assessment and the Common Core begins with the vision of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) from the document’s primary architect—David Coleman (now the president of the College Board). In his presentation on CCSS assessments, Mr. Coleman began by describing the vision of the standards: an emphasis on reading across the curriculum and, within this focus on disciplinary literacy, attention to using texts as a source of evidence to validate conclusions and perspectives.
In describing assessments that truly capture the vision of the CCSS, Mr. Coleman made four points.
First, anti-testing rage should not be directed at the CCSS assessments because of their visibility or role as high-stakes assessments. High-stakes tests have been a reality in American education long before the CCSS. Indeed, the design and intent of the CCSS assessments promise to produce higher quality assessments than current high-stakes assessments.
Second, it is time for a breakthrough in the quality of texts on assessments. Typically, tests use texts that were written or chosen to meet specifications. Often, this process of text selection on tests has resulted in mediocre texts. Mr. Coleman advocates assessments where students engage in high-quality and worthy texts.
Third, assessments need to include opportunities for students to display their proficiency at using texts as a source of evidence. Next-generation assessments need to move beyond multiple-choice responses to tasks where students use evidence to support a point of view.
Fourth, if the next-generation assessments are truly to measure college- and career-ready literacy, the texts of content areas need to be part of the next-generation ELA assessments. Literature has a key role in instruction and assessment but this role is not diminished by the inclusion of texts that emphasize science and social sciences content. In particular, Mr. Coleman stressed that source documents by our nation’s founders need to be part of assessments, if students are to engage fully in the civic life of this nation.
Mr. Coleman also recognized several points of tension within the education community regarding the content and processes of the CCSS.
The publisher’s criteria, Mr. Coleman recognized, have been one source of tension. He asked that educators refer and quote the most recent version of the publisher’s criteria, describing it as stronger than the original one. In particular, he described the revised criteria as more careful on topics such as background knowledge and pre-reading. These changes, he stated, are based on feedback, including that of members of the literacy research community, to the original criteria.
Views of background knowledge have been another source of tension. The need for background knowledge needs to be recognized, Mr. Coleman stated, but he cautioned against indulging in pre-reading activities designed to develop background knowledge to the point where the text is no longer a source of information, pleasure, and excitement.
Motivation was the third source of tension identified by Mr. Coleman. He questioned the assumption that close reading and careful study of a text results in boredom or a lack of motivation. An over-emphasis on close reading could have such an effect but he also noted that a sustained and deep involvement in something difficult could be a source of great pleasure.
In closing, Mr. Coleman called for collaborative discussions on specific texts and questions. Such collaborative work could lead to productive outcomes for students and their teachers.
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