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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.
These new Colorado standards are very thoughtful and their core (termed â€œevidence outcomesâ€) addresses almost all of the English Language Arts Content-Specific Criteria in useful ways (See Common Grading Metric.). Though most essential content is covered, they are dense and wordy in places.
The Colorado standards are divided into four strands: Oral Expression and Listening, Reading for All Purposes, Writing and Composition, and Research and Reasoning. Each strand is divided into grade-level expectations. These are sub-divided into â€œconcepts and skillsâ€ and finally into â€œevidence outcomes.â€ The latter are detailed, grade-specific student expectations, which are the focus herein.
Clarity & Specificity
Coloradoâ€™s standards are dense and numerous. Although they manage to convey essential content, in quite a few places the objectives become too personal, nonacademic, and unmeasurable, as in:
Identify stereotypes, prejudices, biases, and distortions in self and thinking of others (grade 6)
Identify personal attitudes and beliefs about events, ideas, and themes in text, and explain how these shape their comprehension of text (grade 8)
In a few places, the language is vague and unmeasurable, for example:
Reflect on the content and approach to a presentation (grade 10)
Still, most evidence outcomes are clear and specific. One of the biggest problems relative to clarity and specificity is the voluminous amount of extraneous â€œrationaleâ€ (called â€œRelevance and Applicationâ€) that is included grade by grade. The information appears designed to illuminate the reasons for having to learn the content, but its effect is that it distracts the reader from the core content. For instance, under the Research and Reasoning strand in grade 12, several standards pertain to gathering, analyzing, and evaluating information. But the Relevance and Application section below it includes various bulleted statements, one of which is â€œData organization is a skill used in medical testing.â€
For these reasons, Colorado receives two points of three for Clarity and Specificity. (See Common Grading Metric.)
Content & Rigor
Standards for Oral Expression And Listening address speaking, listening, group discussions, and group work. They are detailed and thorough, if not a little heavy-handed. Oral presentations are consistently addressed. Specific characteristics are enumerated, as in this culminating twelfth-grade standard:
a. Prepare and deliver a formal presentation for different purposes and audiences (such as expositive, persuasive, entertaining, inspirational, or recognition)
b. Identify a central idea or thesis, organize ideas, and develop a speech for an intended purpose and audience
c. Use examples, illustrations, graphics, quotations, analogies, facts, and statistics to focus and support the content of a presentation
d. Use grammar and vocabulary appropriate for the situation, audience, topic, and purpose
e. Choose specific words and word order for intended effect and meaning f. Select appropriate technical or specialized language (grade 12)
Standards addressing phonics and phonemic awareness are strong and appropriately rigorous, as demonstrated by this one for first-grade students:
a. Segment spoken words into onset (initial consonant sounds) and rime (vowel to end of syllable)
b. Use onsets and rimes to create new words that include blends and digraphs
c. Identify the initial, medial, and final phoneme of spoken words
d. Manipulate individual phonemes to create new words through addition, substitution, and deletion (grade 1)
Vocabulary standards are focused on morphology and progress through the grades with rigor.
Colorado admirably de-emphasizes unmeasurable metacognitive strategies.
Coloradoâ€™s standards for literary and non-literary text are carefully drawn. Each text type is treated separately and thoroughly throughout the grades, as these eighth-grade informational text standards demonstrate:
a. Identify key words that signal a variety of organizational patterns (such as chronology, compare/contrast, problem/ solution, cause/effect); explain how various organizational patterns structure information differently; use organizational patterns to guide interpretation of text
b. Evaluate viewpoints, values, and attitudes (such as detecting bias, word connotations, and incomplete data)
c. Make inferences and draw conclusions about relevance and accuracy of information…(grade 8)
These literary text standards, also from grade 8, are comparably detailed:
b. …Explain and compare the different roles and functions that characters play in a narrative (such as antagonist, protagonist, hero)
c. Interpret mood, tone, and literary devices (such as symbolism, flashback, foreshadowing, hyperbole), and provide supporting evidence from text
d. Identify use of third person, omniscient, and third person limited points of view; explain how each narrative point of view provides different insights in plots, characters and themes…(grade 8)
At grade 11, students are also required to â€œdemonstrate knowledge of classical foundational works of American literature,â€ a welcome addition. This standard is presented in the context of other â€œcritical reading approaches,â€ such as analyzing literary devices; explaining the influence of historical context; and interpreting and synthesizing themes across texts, so the standards do not appear out of the blue.
The writing standards address both the characteristics of good writing generally and those that are specific to genres. All genres of writing are developed and, in high school, appropriate emphasis is placed on the development of arguments, as in grade 11:
Evaluate and revise own text as needed to eliminate logical fallacies and to enhance credibility of ideas and information (grade 11)
English language conventions are also contained within the writing strand; they systematically cover grammar, usage, and mechanics from the earliest grades through the end of high school.
Coloradoâ€™s research and reasoning strand is a mostly useful addition. These standards maintain a rigorous progression for research processes and products. They also address logic, as in this commendable twelfth-grade standard in which students:
a. Synthesize information to support a logical argument
b. Distinguish between evidence and inferences
c. Identify false premises or assumptions
d. Analyze rhetorical devices used in own and othersâ€™ appeals
e. Summarize ideas that include alternate views, rich detail, well-developed paragraphs, and logical argumentation (grade 12)
As noted below under weaknesses, this strand overreaches in the early grades, but works well in high school.
The standards do not describe the quality and complexity of reading that students should master, nor do they provide samples of desirable student writing.
In a few places, the Research and Reasoning standards set unrealistic goals that could not necessarily be observable or measurable, as in this eleventh-grade standard in which students:
Determine the extent to which they entered empathetically into competing points of view, exercised confidence in reason, recognized the limits of their knowledge on the topic (intellectual humility), explored alternative approaches to solving or addressing complex problems (intellectual flexibility), were open to constructive critique (intellectual open-mindedness) (grade 11)
Worthy and ambitious as they are, it would be hard to hold students accountable for these tasks.
A number of the expectations in the lower grades are far too abstract for elementary schoolâ€”or perhaps for anyone. In grade 5, for example, students:
a. Accurately explain the implications of concepts they use
b. Identify irrelevant ideas and use concepts and ideas in ways relevant to their purpose
c. Analyze concepts and draw distinctions between related but different concepts (grade 5)
Students in fifth grade are also expected to â€œrecognize what they know and donâ€™t know (intellectual humility),â€ a skill that certainly eludes many adults. The addition of these unnecessary standards among so many others makes it hard for teachers to set priorities.
One final weakness in the Colorado standards is the lack of student writing samples illustrating the kind of writing expected. Such examples would be a welcome addition.
In sum, these standards represent a very thorough and rigorous set of expectations for the students in Colorado. Some streamlining and editing to exclude nonacademic and unrealistic goals would improve them tremendously, but as written, they earn a solid six points out of seven for Content and Rigor. (See Common Grading Metric.)
THE BOTTOM LINE
Coloradoâ€™s standards for literary and non-literary text analysis are more thorough and detailed than the Common Core, addressing specific genres, sub-genres, and characteristics of both literary and non-literary texts. In addition, Colorado includes a strand devoted to â€œresearch and reasoningâ€ which, despite occasional overreaching, outlines more detailed and rigorous expectations for logic. Coloradoâ€™s standards for oral presentations are also clearer and more detailed than those presented in the Common Core.
On the other hand, the Common Core standards are more focused and include few of the unnecessary and distracting â€œrationaleâ€ statements that can be found in the Colorado document. Common Core also includes samples of student writing to clarify grade and genre-specific writing expectations, as well as standards explicitly addressing foundational U.S. documents. Coloradoâ€™s standards would be improved by eliminating both the unnecessary material and the gaps mentioned above.
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