Big picture–I think that the Common Core ELA Standards (or Georgia Standards of Excellence if I am being exact) are beneficial to my students. I teach 8th grade at a school that serves a large population of military students. This revolving door brings me many students from all over the country. The fact that the majority of states use the Common Core allows my students to jump right in with us curriculum wise, especially in ELA where the standards are pretty vague and generic. In stark contrast, when the new students start Georgia Studies in the middle of the year, they are completely lost and behind.
I love my content area standards for their weaknesses because they allow me freedom in designing what and how I want my students to interact with text and material. In the 8th grade standards, the language is incredibly ambiguous and non-specific. For example: ELAGSE8RI8: Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced. The standard does not tell me how to achieve this objective or what text I have to use. I am given the freedom to base my instruction on what would engage my students into critical thinking and discussion. I taught this standard by having them analyze the debates surrounding the redesign of Barbie so that it includes different ethnicities and body types. We read numerous informational texts, held multiple debates that turned into deep,critical analysis of what we value as a society and how gender roles are still very much present. The ambiguity allows me to place the learning in the hands and needs of my students. However, the state does offer “suggestions” in the Teacher Guidance page, but again, it is vague. It terms of support for ELLs, SPED, and Gifted students, it just suggests, “Provide explicit instruction and scaffolding as necessary for the skills and concepts students should acquire for RL1.”
Umm, ok? That’s it…
Frequently this year, I found my students stumbling over the language of the standard. They are written in high-level, dense terminology. My students benefited a lot from me breaking down the standards into “real talk”–putting it into their words. The ELA standards increase in depth and complexity as students progress through the grade level, so with the Language standards aside, most of the ideas and concepts are not new to 8th graders–in theory. I found myself re-teaching and remediating on a 4th to 5th grade level for my struggling students. This progression of standards with high level terminology does not allow for productive struggle. There are too many standards that we are being forced to teach (because of the high-stakes pressure of Milestones) that are not as high impact and real world applicable. Hello, I mean, I have never needed to know how a verbal was functioning in a sentence (GSEELA8L1a). Not ever. But I have needed to be able to identify the main purpose of an email from my boss or to identify bias in a politician’s claim. There is a disconnect in what the makers of curriculum–supposedly teachers–deem critical to one’s learning process.
I think that the role of education is to produce critical thinkers and problem solvers. I want my students to leave my class with an understanding that they have the capability to contribute to our world in a way that is meaningful. Language Arts, at its core, teaches skills that are “real world” applicable. We need to be able to express our thoughts clearly both written and orally. We need to be able to read for understanding and application into our own situations, but in general terms, the ELA standards do not address those needs of education. The standards to not address why we are teaching students this skill beyond a standardized test. We are trying to produce “college and career ready students” (that’s totally a neoliberalism scheme) but that does not match what is coming out of our education system.
This reflection bounces from one idea to another, but that accurately represents where I am at with this process. I know what I believe and practice as an educator, but I still have to have my students pass the Milestones test, so I still am stuck teaching standards that I don’t think matter. I think “stuck” is the perfect word for many educators who are trying to balance relevant content/curriculum and irrelevant testing. But I still have to work with a highly educated colleague who doesn’t want to teach relevant content, topics, or strategies because they aren’t “mimicked on the state test”…but we aren’t teaching for a test. We are teaching for life skills. The standards should be the jumping off point for content. The baseline–not the total determiner. Their strengths and weaknesses can be capitalized on and made up for by an educator who works for the needs of all of his or her students.