Will Michael Brickman, Tim Shanahan, Politifact, Fox News, and USA Today do some careful reading, please? (by Sandra Stotsky)

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In How Common Core’s ELA Standards Place College Readiness at Risk (Pioneer Institute White Paper No. 89, September 2012), Mark Bauerlein and I explain why teachers and superintendents believe that Common Core reduces literary study to about 50% in the English class and where the 70% figure for informational texts comes from. With careful reading, it is possible to understand the confusion that David Coleman and Susan Pimentel created in the English curriculum, in reporters’ minds, and in the minds of so-called policy advisers. Please take note: Michael Brickman, Tim Shanahan, Politifact, Fox News, and USA Today.

The following section is from pp. 8, 9, and 10 of that 2012 report.

“Section II. Unwarranted Division of Reading Instructional Time

The reduction of literary-historical content in the standards is a necessary consequence of Common Core’s emphasis on informational reading. The nine literature standards and ten informational standards in Common Core’s grade-level standards for reading promote a 50/50 split between literature and informational reading. At the same time, Common Core indicates that the common tests in English language arts now being developed at the high school level must match the 30/70 percentages on the NAEP grade 12 reading test, and that English classes must teach more informational reading or literary nonfiction than ever before. In effect, Common Core yokes the English curriculum to a test … with arbitrary percentages for types of reading that have no basis in research or in informed professional consent, as we shall explain.

NAEP never states that the percentages of types of reading in a curriculum should reflect the percentages designed for a test. … NAEP percentages at all educational levels are merely “estimates” devised by advisory reading experts and teachers over the years, based on the unremarkable observation that most students do more informational than literary reading “in their school and out-of-school reading.” … Since its inception, the grade 12 test has never been considered a test of the high school literature curriculum.

… Nor were the percentages intended to reflect what students actually read just in the English class. They couldn’t. There is no percentage for drama, for instance, because NAEP has never assessed drama (on the grounds that suitable portions of a play would be too long for a test item). NAEP has steadfastly ignored the fact that Massachusetts has regularly assessed drama on its English language arts tests since 1998, and at all grade levels.

Keeping in mind that nearly all high school literary reading takes place in English classes, we conclude that Common Core wants future high school English tests to assess informational reading more heavily than literary reading–and only some kinds of literary reading. Did Common Core’s architects not know about the lack of fit between what NAEP’s grade 12 tests assess in literature and what is typically taught in high school English classes?

Common Core pretends to soften the blow by maintaining that the 70 percent figure it took from the distribution of passages for the grade 12 NAEP reading test does not mean that grades 9-12 English classes should teach 70 percent informational texts. It goes on to say that this 70 percent must reflect informational reading across the entire high school curriculum. …

Two questions immediately arise. How will teachers in other subjects be held accountable for some portion of this 70 percent? How much of that 70 percent will English teachers be held accountable for? 10 percent? 50 percent? 60 percent? Common Core doesn’t say, and in the absence of explicit percentages, we predict that it will fall entirely on the English class. … “…NAEP doesn’t outline instructional expectations for the English classroom or a school curriculum, only the distribution of types of passages for a test…Where did the architects of Common Core’s ELA standards get the idea that literary nonfiction belonged in the informational category? Where did they get the 50 percent teaching division from? We don’t know. …

…The 30/70 mandate also reflects a misunderstanding of what NAEP reading tests purport to assess and whom NAEP considers accountable. The specifications for NAEP’s current grade 12 reading test indicate that test items are to measure “students’ comprehension of the different kinds of text they encounter in their in-school and out-of-school reading experiences”…

In fact, both types of NAEP reading tests (the long-term trend tests beginning in 1971 and the main tests beginning in 1992) were designed to reflect the reading students do outside of school as well as across the curriculum. … It is clear that the architects of Common Core’s ELA standards improperly extended the purview of NAEP’s assessment specifications. …

To summarize, Common Core’s stipulations for the English class have no basis in research, in NAEP documents, or in informed consent, and NAEP’s percentages for passage types have no basis in research at any educational level.”