Common Core at Ground-level


"Street Level 2" - Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim at Ground Level

In response to Don’t Be Snowed on the Complexity of Unwritten Common Core Assessments, I’ve pulled this post out of the dust-bin of “Drafts”…

Many teachers at my site were scrambling to get more PD hours as the school year winds down, so we had a presentation from  a fellow teacher who is on the district’s Common Core working group. She’s a great teacher. She does ELD and intervention pull-outs part-time, and fills in with subbing on her off days. I’ve shared a bit of what I’ve found and written with her already.  The scary part is how different what I’m hearing at the “macro” level is compared with what is disseminated at the local level. The focus was on the ELA standards.

The nice part was that most of the discussion was about how we would assess in our classrooms, and at the school. We had already agreed in the intermediate grades that we would do some grading of writing in grade-level teams next year, so this fit in well with that. The presenter shared some lessons she was doing with students about digging into a piece of writing rather than rushing through a selection a week. Since we’re going to do some novel reading next year, this is in line with where we’re heading as well. One teacher shared a nice resource that I had missed from the Common Core site:

Appendix C: Samples of Student Writing

Where I also found these:

Appendix B: Text Exemplars and Sample Performance Tasks

Looking through the  sample performance task is like looking at Common Core in general. It’s a hodge-podge. Some of the tasks are great and could be “world-class”, some are the same-old, and some remind me of the Pineapple Race test passage, in that they are trying to be smarter, and it just makes the task stupider. My notes are in italics, make of it what you will:

Sample Performance Tasks for Informational Texts (Fourth and Fifth Grade)

Students explain how Melvin Berger uses reasons and evidence in his book Discovering Mars: The Amazing Story of the Red Planet to support particular points regarding the topology of the planet. [RI.4.8]
Since the text is not included in the exemplars, I can’t tell if there is something gripping about it that would make it compelling for students. I’m also trying to figure out what the idea here. Is it to learn about the topology of Mars, or how scientists determine points about Mars topology? It’s still better than this next task…

Students identify the overall structure of ideas, concepts, and information in Seymour Simon’s Horses (based on factors such as their speed and color) and compare and contrast that scheme to the one employed by Patricia Lauber in her book Hurricanes: Earth’s Mightiest Storms. [RI.5.5]
This is really comparing apples and oranges. Why would you want to compare these classification systems? If you’re going to teach them about classifying hurricanes, shouldn’t you be teaching them about “official” scales, instead of a “scheme employed” by one author? What are they learning about content matter when you teach this? It’s a central weakness of the standards in that they want to be content relevant, but without content standards, they just seem to vaguely point to science and social studies, and to have tasks that involve high level thinking about stuff that is often banal, and has NO connection to the big ideas of the subject. It replicates all the worst tendency of Open Court’s coverage of science and social studies by creating a paint-the-wall-by-polka-dots curricula.

Students interpret the visual chart that accompanies Steve Otfinoski’s The Kid’s Guide to Money: Earning It, Saving It, Spending It, Growing It, Sharing It and explain how the information found within it contributes to an understanding of how to create a budget. [RI.4.7]
This seems much more worthwhile for kids. The prompt (as with all of these) doesn’t seem to read as though it is written for the students but for an adult, but re-writing is a minor task for a teacher as long as the task is good.

Students explain the relationship between time and clocks using specific information drawn from Bruce Koscielniak’s About Time: A First Look at Time and Clocks. [RI.5.3]
I like this, but doesn’t really cover any content standards I can think of, but not without worth to have kids thinking about time and how technology (clocks) change it.

Students determine the meaning of domain-specific words or phrases, such as crust, mantle, magma, and lava, and important general academic words and phrases that appear in Seymour Simon’s Volcanoes. [RI.4.4]
This is squarely in the science content standards for elementary, but it’s pretty low-level, recall and vocabulary. This would be a good early task if you were doing lessons around that text, but it’s not world class, or better than what we’ve already got.

Students compare and contrast a firsthand account of African American ballplayers in the Negro Leagues to a secondhand account of their treatment found in books such as Kadir Nelson’s We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, attending to the focus of each account and the information provided by each. [RI.4.6]
This I like, because it hits an important point about differences in first and second-hand accounts in history. Still, pre-Civil War and Reconstruction text would be more in keeping with the content standards.

Students quote accurately and explicitly from Leslie Hall’s “Seeing Eye to Eye” to explain statements they make and ideas they infer regarding sight and light. [RI.5.1]
Hard to tell without reading the text. Is it science or a poem?

Students determine the main idea of Colin A. Ronan’s “Telescopes” and create a summary by explaining how key details support his distinctions regarding different types of telescopes. [RI.4.2]
I hate the use of “distinctions regarding” … this just screams, “This prompt was not written by someone who teaches fourth and fifth graders”.

Some co-workers were talking with a former school parent, who is now a doctoral candidate. His observation was that there will be no next generation of tests, because we can’t afford them. I think he’s right, California can’t afford it, but I think that will actually make things worse. States that have signed onto RttT will have to have these new assessments, and have some money from the feds to create them. They are already starting. My guess on how this will play out is that since the assessments are being developed by two consortia, once a state in the consortia has a test ready to go, the other states may just then use that as their assessment. This means no state control or input, we’ll have to take it as. The only hope against this madness in California is the fact that our Governor is very dubious of the wonders of standard assessments, etc. What I would like is what Nebraska proposed so long ago in the Bush administration, portfolio-based assessments that teachers would grade themselves (with some auditing), but I’m a dreamer.

Another teacher’s experience:

Teacher: One (maddening) day working with the Common Core – The Answer Sheet – The Washington Post


Photo Credit: “Street Level 2” – Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim at Ground Level by An Ceann Corr, on Flickr

3 Comments to

“Common Core at Ground-level”

  1. May 13th, 2012 at 10:09 am      Reply Tom Hoffman Says:

    The next generation of tests will mostly look like the current one. There will be a few flashy exceptions — the research component — which will be all policy makers talk about. Also, they won’t talk about what’s happening at schools that don’t have the infrastructure for the high-tech versions.

    • May 13th, 2012 at 1:37 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

      Yeah, I would guess. We’ll do more writing for the next few years, but then, drop that around 2016 when it’s obvious that the bubble test still rule the day. Still, California has a wild-card with Jerry Brown pushing less emphasis on standardized test.

  2. May 14th, 2012 at 11:33 am      Reply Suzanne Klein Says:

    Thanks so much for this post. It’s one of the more informative and useful blogs I’ve seen on the subject of the ELA Core Standards. I am going to pass it on to our Facebook community!

    Your report of how teachers in your school are working together on scoring writing is great to hear. It sounds a lot like what we facilitate among teachers when we do professional development. Here’s a description of what we’re up to…. (scroll down to the second article)

    Keep up the great work!

    Suzanne Klein


  1. Five Questions for Common Core | InService Blog

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