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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.
This voluminous and nearly incomprehensible document contains good content in spots, but it is buried beneath a barrage of repetitive and bloated statements that consistently prioritize process and personal proclivities over results and objective learning. Its hopelessly confusing organization and constant repetition of expectations make it impossible to glean effective guidance for students and teachers.
Delaware presents four ELA standards:
- Standard 1â€”Students will use written and oral English appropriate for various purposes and audiences
- Standard 2â€”Students will construct, examine, and extend the meaning of literary, informative, and technical texts through listening, reading, and viewing
- Standard 3â€”Students will access, organize, and evaluate information gained through listening, reading, and viewing
- Standard 4â€”Students will use literary knowledge accessed through print and visual media to connect self to society and culture
Each standard is divided into unnamed categories, and numerous categories are identified for each standard. Seventy-seven categories, for example, are listed for Standard 2â€”with comparable numbers of categories assigned to the other standards. Each category then contains dozens of grade-level expectations for K-12.
Clarity & Specificity
The organization of Delawareâ€™s ELA standards is almost impossible to follow. At every levelâ€”standard, category, and grade-level expectationsâ€”they are vague, providing scant guidance about what, precisely, students should know and be able to do. Here is a smattering across the levels:
Standard 2â€”Students will construct, examine, and extend the meaning of literary, informative, and technical texts through listening, reading, and viewing (overarching standard)
Students will be able to critically analyze and evaluate information and messages presented through print by (b) formulating and expressing opinions (category for all grade spans)
Compare personal experiences and knowledge of the world (text-to-world connections) to make and support judgments about concepts in:
- Literary text (e.g., characterâ€™s actions, morals of narratives or poems)
- Nonfiction (grade 7)
Nowhere among these statements is a clear student outcome described. The grade-level expectations, which we might expect to be the most specific, are often vague and repetitive. A typical expectation is:
Create meaning from a variety of media (grades 4-12)
Worse, it is repeated verbatim every year from fourth to twelfth grade.
Other times, the expectations are simply incomprehensible, as in this one repeated verbatim, grades 5-12:
Listen to and critique opposing interpretations of the same reading and consider how these opinions were formed through classroom dialogue and independent writing (grades 5-12)
The Delaware standards need a serious revision to identify and streamline any good content and reformulate it into a comprehensible framework that teachers could actually followâ€”and know when students have met them. It fails to do this, and thus earns zero points out of three for Clarity and Specificity. (See Common Grading Metric.)
Content & Rigor
Some good vocabulary content can be found within the reading and written and oral English strands. In particular, despite their heavy emphasis on context clues and other strategies in the early grades, the standards address word analysis and etymology in the upper grades.
The reading standards beyond the earliest grades outline some specific content, though it is very difficult to find. The following standard, for example, calls out specific text structures:
Identify text structures in informative/technical texts (e.g., sequence/chronological order, classification, simple definition, simple process, description, comparison, problem/solution, simple cause/effect)
Expectations for persuasive, informative, and expressive writing are generally thorough, as in this multi-part grade 5 standard:
Present reasons in a logical order (e.g., weakest to strongest argument, strongest to weakest argument)
- Organize writing by selecting text structures that strengthen the argument
- Develop an introduction, which is separate from the body, that presents a simple thesis and
- takes a clear position
- clarifies the issue
- provides necessary background
- Use transition words/phrases that show order (e.g., in conclusion) or relationships (e.g., on the other hand)
- Develop a conclusion that begins to move beyond summary (e.g., â€œcall to actionâ€ or â€œnext stepâ€)
Standards for group discussions are addressed, as are those for active listening. Conventions are adequately addressed as well, in standards both for oral and written language. Research standards are included, and, despite heavy repetition, are thorough.
Delawareâ€™s coverage of essential phonics, phonemic awareness, and fluency content and skills is inadequate. In addition, the Delaware standards require that students read a variety of genres from many cultures, but contain no requirement that American literature be studied.
Text complexity is defined in a graphic that illustrates the range of lexiles at which students should be reading. The graphic further notes that certain characteristics of text, such as setting, can make the text more difficult. If, for example, the setting is â€œdistantâ€ or â€œunfamiliar,â€ the text will be more difficult than if the setting were familiar. On its face, that may make sense, but in reality, a text with a familiar setting could still be quite difficult if the syntax, vocabulary, and themes were complex.
In addition, the reading standards focus almost exclusively on studentsâ€™ personal reflections and â€œpersonal connectionsâ€ to texts, as demonstrated in these standards, which are repeated verbatim across grades 3-12:
Find and explain personal connections to the topics, events, characters, actions, ideas or information in the text (grades 3-12)
Sympathize with the experiences and feelings of fictional characters based on age, gender, nationalities, races, cultures, and/or disabilities (grades 3-7)
Read stories and relate charactersâ€™ experiences to shape own decisions by asking questions:
- I felt like that character when Iâ€¦
- If that happened to me, I wouldâ€¦
- I can relate to that character because one timeâ€¦(grades 2-12)
Delaware also fails to prioritize which genres should be emphasized at which grades. Too many genres and writing products are expected at every grade level, and the state provides little guidance (rubrics, sample writing, etc.) to clarify expectations for products across grades.
Standards for oral presentation do not include specific targets for analysis, and no rubrics are provided for their evaluation. Finally, media standards are given short shrift, as in the following standard, which also repeats with little variation across many grades:
Use various forms of technology
â€¢â€¢ word processing
â€¢â€¢ presentation programs
â€¢â€¢ digital cameras
â€¢â€¢ multimedia [â€¦]to formulate writing and/or communicate knowledge of products (grades 5-12)
What appears here is unmeasurable and doesnâ€™t hold students accountable for anything specific.
A few areas of strength save the Delaware standards from being utterly unhelpful, but at least 65 percent of important content remains missing, giving Delaware two points out of seven for Content and Rigor. (See Common Grading Metric.)
THE BOTTOM LINE
With their grade of F, Delawareâ€™s ELA standards are among the worst in the country, while those developed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative earn a solid B-plus. The CCSS ELA standards are significantly superior to what the Diamond State has in place today.
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