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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.
The Idaho standards exhibit strengths in reading, vocabulary, listening and speaking, and media, but they also suffer from superficial treatment of text quality and complexity, student writing criteria, oral and written language conventions, and research. In a number of places, the standards are either unclear or repetitive in ways that make the progression of rigor hard to detect.
The Idaho standards are grouped into six strands:
- Reading Process
- Writing Process
- Writing Applications
- Writing Components
For each strand, the state presents â€œgoals,â€ which are common across grade levels, and finally grade-specific objectivesâ€” except in the case of â€œSpeech,â€ where standards are provided only for the high school grade span, 9-12.
In addition, for many objectives, the state includes the oddly phrased â€œcontent limitâ€ that explains how, if at all, the objective will be assessed by the state.
Clarity & Specificity
Idahoâ€™s standards are clearly organized and well presented, and some are clear and specific, such as:
Write left to right, top to bottom, with appropriate spaces between words (Kindergarten)
Use capital letter in first name (Kindergarten)
Unfortunately, a greater number of standards are vaguely written and repetitive. For example, the following generic standard appears under a literary text heading at both seventh and eighth grades:
Analyze the themes of various genres (grades 7-8)
Such a standard is exceptionally vague and its verbatim repetition fails to delineate progression across grades.
Other standards, while not repeated verbatim, make few (or no) meaningful distinctions from grade to grade. For example:
Identify defining characteristics of literature genres, including poetry (grade 4)
Identify various genres of fiction and kinds of poetry based on their characteristics (grade 5)
Describe different genres of fiction and kinds of poetry, and the major characteristics of each form
The â€œcontent limitsâ€ occasionally provide additional detail to clarify expectations. For example:
Identify plots in literary text
Content Limit: Item may require identification of elements of plot (e.g., main problem, conflict, key details, sequencing, and resolution) (grade 3)
Unfortunately, for standards not assessed on the state test, no additional guidance is provided. The content limit simply reads, â€œAssessed in the classroom, not on the ISATâ€ (Idahoâ€™s state test).
Finally, at the high school level, the Speech standards are presented only for the grade band 9-12, rather than grade by grade.
Taken together, these shortcomings leave teachers without the clear guidance they need to drive rigorous curriculum, instruction, and classroom assessment. The standards therefore earn one point out of three for Clarity and Specificity. (See Common Grading Metric.)
Content & Rigor
Idaho generally covers early reading well and appropriately emphasizes standards addressing essential word-analysis skills and comprehension strategies. Specific targets for reading fluency are provided.
Vocabulary standards are generally rigorous, as in:
Clarify pronunciations, meanings, alternate word choices, parts of speech, and etymology of words using the dictionary, thesaurus, glossary and technology sources (grade 7)
Literary and non-literary texts are treated separately, giving each category its proper attention. Additionally, an attempt is made to address American literature specifically, though only in eleventh grade:
Analyze recognized works of literature representing a variety of genres and traditions that:
- Trace the development of the major periods of American literature
- Contrast the major themes, styles, and trends in different periods
- Evaluate the influences (i.e., philosophical, political, religious, ethical, and social) of the historical period that shaped
the characters, plot, and setting (grade 11)
The eleventh-grade standards also include a vague vocabulary standard that mentions American literature, though its purpose is difficult to discern:
Use context analysis to determine the meanings of unfamiliar and multiple-meaning words from American literature (grade 11)
Standards for writing delineate expectations for specific genres and products. Listening and speaking standards are generally rigorous. And in high school, although the standards are written for the entire grade span, they contain some good content:
Analyze the types of arguments used by a speaker (e.g., argument by causation, analogy, authority, emotion, and logic) (grades 9-12)
This listening skill requires an understanding of types of arguments, a rigorous and welcome high school expectation, but it would be much better if these were scaffolded across four years. It is also commendable that standards ask students to â€œanalyze historically significant speeches to find the rhetorical devices and features that make them memorable.â€
Oral presentations are also required, as in this objective from high school:
Deliver oral responses to literature that advance a judgment and/or demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the significant ideas of a work or passage. Support important ideas and viewpoints through accurate and detailed references to the text and to other works (grades 9-12)
More detail could certainly be provided about the type of work or passage, especially at various grades in high school, but at least formal oral presentations are required.
Although only covered in high school, some good media analysis is also included, as in:
Compare and contrast the ways in which media genres (e.g., televised news, news magazines and documentaries, and online information) cover the same event (grades 9-12)
Students in high school are also required to produce multimedia presentations.
The Idaho standards provide no guidance about the quality and complexity of text that students should read across grade levels. Nor do they provide detailed expectations regarding the characteristics and quality of writing products expected in each genre. The following persuasive writing standard, for example, leaves too much to the imagination:
Write persuasive compositions that take into consideration the validity and reliability of sources (grades 9-12)
Also missing are student writing samples and sample rubrics to help clarify expectations across grades.
Similarly, listening and speaking standards lack evaluation criteria, and the standards fail to include explicit standards for group discussions.
The expectations for English language conventions, housed in the writing strand, could also be more carefully crafted. Much content is left unaddressed by these general standards that gloss over specific grammar and usage, as in these idiosyncratic standards that are repeated from grades 4-8:
- future verb tenses
- personal pronouns
- adverbs (grades 4-8)
What happened to grammatical elements such as verb tenses other than the future tense, phrases, clauses, and pronouns other than personal pronouns? The research standards, embedded in expository writing, suffer from a similarly superficial treatment.
Taken together, these shortcomings leave as much as 35 percent of the essential K-12 content missing, thus earning the standards four points out of seven for Content and Rigor. (See Common Grading Metric.)
THE BOTTOM LINE
With their grade of C, Idahoâ€™s ELA standards are mediocre, while those developed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative earn a solid B-plus. The CCSS ELA standards are superior to what the Gem State has in place today.
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