View Best in Class
Fordham's Reviews from the U.S. and Abroad
This is Fordham’s review of the state’s standards in place prior to adopting the Common Core. To return to our review of the common core standards (which this state has adopted), click here.
The Arizona ELA standards are well written, specific, and thorough, and the organization is user-friendly. Some areas need improvement, but the overall coverage of content and skills is quite good.
Arizonaâ€™s ELA grade-by-grade standards are divided into four areas: Reading, Writing, Listening/Speaking, and Viewing/Presenting. In Reading and Writing, the standards are broken into â€œstrands,â€ then into â€œconcepts,â€ and then into â€œperformance objectives.â€ Each layer provides an additional level of detail that further defines student expectations. Grade-by-grade standards are also presented all together in one separate chart that shows how the content and skills build upon one another in successive years.
The Listening/Speaking and Viewing/Presenting standards have been retained from an earlier (1996) iteration of the stateâ€™s standards. They are organized into grade spans: K, 1-3, 4-8, and 9-12. In short, the organization of the standards is clear and user-friendly.
Clarity & Specificity
The Arizona standards are mostly clear and specific. Repetition of standards within some strands, however, weakens the overall effectiveness of the document, as does some unclear language.
In Writing, especially, standards repeat sometimes verbatim at many different grade levels, such as this one which appears in grades 6, 7, and 8:
Develop a sufficient explanation or exploration of the topic (grades 6-8)
This standard, which is vague to begin with, should look different at grade 6 than at grade 8, and the document should provide more specific guidance, perhaps by genre. Including annotated samples of acceptable student writing would also help to illustrate the content and quality of student writing expectations.
Similarly vague standards appear from time to time in the Arizona framework. For example, consider the following fifth- grade reading expectation:
Describe the historical and cultural aspects found in cross-cultural works of literature (grade 5)
Or this â€œviewing and presentingâ€ standard from grade span 4-8:
Compare, contrast and establish criteria to evaluate visual media for purpose and effectiveness (grades 4-8)
This Kindergarten reading comprehension standard is confusing:
Determine whether a literary selection, that is heard, is realistic or fantasy (Kindergarten)
Realism and fantasy are not opposites, nor are they mutually exclusive. Aspects of fantasy can in fact be realistic. This false dichotomy is repeated in various forms in higher grades. That said, such linguistic shortcomings are easily fixed.
Since the standards are â€œsomewhat lacking in coherence, clarity, or organizationâ€ (See Common Grading Metric.), they receive two points out of three for Clarity and Specificity.
Content & Rigor
Arizonaâ€™s Reading standards are generally strong. The early reading standards cover all areas identified in the English Language Arts Content-Specific Criteria (see Appendix A): phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, and comprehension. Students must â€œdecode words, using knowledge of phonics, syllabication, and word parts.â€ Context clues are not emphasized in the early grades.
Arizona addresses vocabulary systematically and its development starts early, with word categories in Kindergarten, contractions and compound words in grade 1, prefixes and suffixes in grade 2, and dictionary use in grade 3. As the standards unfold, the vocabulary thread progresses with rigor through high school and even includes a welcome dose of etymologyâ€”in which students are to â€œ[d]raw inferences about the meaning of new vocabulary, based on knowledge of linguistic roots and affixes (e.g., Latin, Greek, Anglo-Saxon).â€
Literary and informational texts are treated distinctly, and both categories are addressed thoroughly. Structures and elements of both literary and non-literary text types are addressed. Informational text is broken into three categories (expository, functional, and persuasive texts), making it easy to understand how reading strategies vary across them. The standards for informational text progress logically. They include specific standards related to arguments, which require students, for example, to cite important aspects of reasoning and rhetorical techniques.
The Arizona Writing standards are also thorough. They address the writing process, â€œelementsâ€ of good writing (including grammar), and writing â€œapplications,â€ which expect students to understand how genres of writing (expressive, expository, persuasive, etc.) manifest in various products (e.g., speech, editorial, business letter, poem, etc.). Research is also systematically addressed, and the standards are cross-referenced with the standards for informational text, which allows reinforcement of these two related sets of expectations.
Arizonaâ€™s Reading standards address American literature and American literary heritage only in the eleventh grade (in strand 2, â€œComprehending Literary Textâ€):
Analyze culturally or historically significant literary works of American literature that reflect our major literary periods and traditions (strand 2, grade 11)
This examination could be strengthened by similar focus on American literature in other grades. Furthermore, students and teachers would benefit if the state were to define the quality and complexity of reading expected at each grade level via the use of reading lists.
The Writing standards, while commendable, attempt to do too much. Students are unnecessarily required to write in all genres at all grades. Students should not, for instance, be required to write personal narratives in every grade level. Some prioritization of writing genres by grade level is needed.
Arizonaâ€™s standards for Listening/Speaking, organized by grade span only, are missing essential standards for one-to-one and group discussions. Revising the standards to include grade-specific expectations would likely force incorporation of some of this missing content. More thorough expectations for formal oral presentations would also be welcome.
The standards for Viewing/Presenting read like the â€œmediaâ€ standards in many states, though they are outdated by now, having been written in 1996. For example:
Plan, organize, develop, produce and evaluate an effective multimedia presentation, using tools such as charts, photographs, maps, tables, posters, transparencies, slides and electronic media (grades 9-12)
Surely, todayâ€™s multimedia presentations should include more Internet and video footage, and fewer posters and transparencies! Updating these standards would be advisable, as would delineating them by grade. Particular attention should be paid to cross-referencing them with the research strand, as it is done in the writing standards.
Though most of Arizonaâ€™s standards are strong, some crucial content is missing and some is covered in a manner that is less than satisfactory (See Common Grading Metric.); thus they receive five points out of seven for Content and Rigor.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Arizona treats literary and non-literary texts distinctly and thoroughly and in more detail than the Common Core. Genres, sub-genres, and the characteristics of both literary and non-literary text types are addressed. Informational text is broken into three categories, making it easy to understand how reading strategies vary among them.
On the other hand, the Common Core standards more thoroughly address listening and speaking skills, and they include samples of student writing to clarify grade- and genre-specific writing expectations. Common Core also includes a list specifying the quality and complexity of student reading as well as sample student writing. Such enhancements would significantly improve Arizonaâ€™s standards.
Read moreABOUT THIS REPORT
Our review ofState Standards