Last October, I was invited to NYSUT Headquarters in Albany to review the draft of the State English Language Arts (ELA) standards for grades 3, 4, 5, and 6.
A learning standards review committee rewrote these standards over the last few months. The committee consisted of more than 130 teachers, administrators, parents, higher education representatives and other stakeholders from around the state, including New York State United Teachers Vice President, Catalina Fortino.
All of this work was undertaken as a result of a 2015 legislative requirement that the standards be reassessed with stakeholder input.
The following are some of the changes to the state ELA standards recommended by the review committee:
- Streamline Reading for Information and Reading for Literature Standards by merging them together, identifying the unique skills related to literature and informational text, and ensuring a healthy balance of both types of reading across all grades;
- Refocus on Prekindergarten-Grade 2 Standards with some grade-specific changes and additions to the ELA Standards, including a strong emphasis on the whole child and the importance of play as an instructional strategy. This includes the need for additional guidance for P-2 on how the standards are implemented in the classroom, including sample instructional strategies and activities, definitions and clear connections to teaching English language learners and students with disabilities;
- Create a New York State Early Learning Task Force to discuss concerns around the P-2 grades, including standards, program decisions, social emotional needs and how the content areas/domains work together in the early grades;
- Re-organize Writing Standards so they are easier for educators to use for curriculum and instruction. In addition to regrouping the standards, grade-specific changes are recommended across the grades to clarify language and ensure writing expectations are clear;
- Use a Variety of Texts to balance literary and informational reading with clear guidance for teachers and to ensure students read both full-length texts and shorter pieces, as well as to encourage reading for pleasure; and
- Provide Guidance on Text Complexity for all standards in the introduction to underscore its importance.
To provide educator support in the new learning standards, the review committee recommended the following:
- Develop New York State Resources and Guidance for the Standards: A set of learning standards cannot be properly utilized without the necessary guidance. The committee recommends developing a set of resources for standards, curriculum and professional development. These resources would include strategies and supports for students with disabilities and English language learners, as well as instructional strategies that could serve as examples in the classroom;
- Include a Preface and Grade-Level Introductions for the new set of English Language Arts Standards that explains the importance of the standards and their intended role in a school instructional plan. The preface and introduction would outline a belief statement that includes references to best teaching practices and learning strategies that aim to foster a love of learning for all students;
- Develop Clear Communications for Parents about the standards, with an explanation about the connections among standards, curriculum and assessments; and
- Create a Glossary of Terms that contains words or important terms used within the standards.
As part of my review, I worked with a group that compared the new draft standards with the current ELA standards. The following are a few of my observations:
- The words “grade-level texts” were removed from the standards. The removal of this language should give teachers the opportunity to choose texts that meet each student’s needs more effectively.
- The committee recommended that the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard that requires students to read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently (CCR #10) be moved to a supporting guidance part of the standards document.
- I was hoping to see some changes in the level of text complexity that is expected at each grade level, but I did not notice a great deal of change in that regard.
- Quite a few new standards were added to the writing section of the standards. However, almost all of these referred to skills that are already covered by many teachers in their classrooms.
As part of the standards review, teachers were invited to ask questions. Some of questions asked pertained to the state assessments students will be taking this spring. Many of us were wondering if these assessments will reflect the changes that are being made to the state standards.
We were informed that teachers were involved in writing questions that will be used in the revised state assessments being prepared by Questar, the company contracted by the state education department to create state assessments starting in the 2017-2018 school year.
We were informed that, for this coming spring, the state assessments will contain a few changes based on the work Questar is doing but will also contain many of the same types of questions we have seen in past years that were created by the outgoing company, Pearson.
Our NYSUT vice president, Vice President, Catalina Fortino, and other members of the NYSUT staff, assured us that NYSUT has a better working relationship with the current state Commissioner of Education, MaryEllen Elia, than it had with the past Commissioner. NYSUT is hopeful that the revised assessments will be more age appropriate for our students and that teachers will have greater input in creating the questions on future state assessments.
Our next meetings to discuss the revised standards will take place on December 9th and 10th. Stay tuned for more information when I return from those meetings!