New criteria to guide CCSS-aligned curriculum released

Within weeks of the release of the Common Core State ELA and math standards, textbook publishers had already launched marketing campaigns for their ?CCSS-aligned? curriculum materials. What that label really meant, exactly, was open for much debate.

Enter David Coleman and Sue Pimentel. Last week, the two lead ELA writers for the CCSS ELA standards released ?Publishers' Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy? for grades K-2 and 3-12 in an attempt to guide the curriculum writers who are genuinely trying to align their materials to the CCSS. It will also be an invaluable resource for teachers, schools, and districts who are trying to navigate the already crowded space of CCSS-aligned materials.

Coleman and Pimentel are careful to note that these criteria ?are not meant to dictate classroom practice,? but instead are ?intended to direct curriculum developers and publishers to be purposeful and strategic in both what to include and what to exclude in instructional materials.? In short, Coleman and Pimentel attempt to clarify what materials would be worthy of the ?CCSS-aligned? label.

While the guidelines do include criteria for everything ranging from writing and grammar to research, the bulk of the guidance is focused on reading. The authors note that, in order to be truly CCSS-aligned, reading materials must:

  • Include texts that are appropriately complex. The guidelines note that ?far too often, students who have fallen behind are given only less complex texts rather than the support they need to read texts at the appropriate level of complexity.? By contrast, the CCSS ?hinge on students encountering appropriately complex texts at each grade level to develop the mature language skills and the conceptual knowledge they need for success in school and life.?
  • Ensure that units, guiding questions, and activities that accompany reading selections are text-dependent. ?Close and careful reading must be at the heart of classroom activities and not be consigned to the margins when completing assignments,? Coleman and Pimentel explain. ?Practices such as organizing instructional units around broad, abstract themes like ?traditions' or ?our changing world' can be hard to develop and even harder for students to grasp. Such broad themes can invite teachers and readers to have general conversations rather than focusing reading on the specifics, drawing evidence from the text, and gleaning meaning from it.?
  • Ensure that at least 50 percent of reading material is focused on informational reading (in grades 3-5) or literary nonfiction (in grades 6-12).

Finally, the guidelines specify that the goal of any reading program should be student comprehension of sufficiently complex texts, rather than the volume of texts read.

Coleman and Pimentel are undoubtedly serving a critical role to bring some order to the Wild West of CCSS materials. One important limitation of their work is that the criteria they produced doesn't offer the kinds of specific examples that could help not only set the bar for curriculum developers, but also provide teachers and curriculum directors a touchpoint to better understand what CCSS-aligned materials should actually look like. That said, these criteria should help limit the number of publishers who can claim the CCSS label and that is an important first step.

--Kathleen Porter-Magee

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