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Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments

Foreword and Summary by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Kathleen Porter-Magee

Press Release

As forty-six states and the District of Columbia implement the Common Core State Standards, questions abound regarding implementation, including the implications for curriculum and pedagogy. In Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments, researchers analyze what texts English teachers assign their students and the instructional techniques they used in the classroom. This study is meant to serve as a “baseline” that shows what the very early stages of CCSS implementation look like. This “baseline” study—with a follow-up slated for 2015—shows what the very early stages of CCSS implementation look like:

Most teachers believe that the new standards promise better learning for their students, and an overwhelming majority of teachers say that their schools have already made significant progress toward implementing the standards, including relevant curriculum changes and professional development.

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But findings from this survey also show that, for the most part, the heavy lifting of aligning curriculum and instruction to the rigor of the CCSS still lies ahead:

  • The CCSS emphasize the centrality of texts in the English language arts curriculum. Yet the majority of teachers still report that their lessons are dominated by skills and are more likely to try to fit texts to skills than to ground their skills instruction in what is appropriate to the texts they are teaching. Indeed, an astonishing 73 percent of elementary school teachers and 56 percent of middle school teachers place greater emphasis on reading skills than the text; high school teachers are more divided, with roughly equal portions prioritizing either skills or texts.
  • The Common Core asks teachers to assign texts that provide language complexity appropriate to the grade level, but significant proportions of teachers—particularly in the elementary grades—are still assigning texts based on students’ present reading prowess. Specifically, the majority of elementary teachers (64 percent) make substantial efforts to match students with books that presumably align with their instructional reading levels. This happens less often in middle and high school, with approximately two in five middle school teachers selecting texts this way. This means that many youngsters are not yet working with appropriately complex language in their schoolbooks.
  • The CCSS call for students to have substantial experience reading informational texts (including literary nonfiction such as speeches and essays). Despite some public controversy over this, most of the teachers indicated that they are already devoting significant proportions of time to teaching such texts in their classrooms. Nevertheless, many English language arts teachers (including 56 percent at the middle school level) assign none of the literary or informational texts listed in the survey, which represent both CCSS exemplars and other high-quality texts.