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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.
Although the Michigan standards have a few moments of clarity, specificity, and rigor, overall they are a muddle. The standards include many loosely worded general statements and few clear and specific expectations for students. They emphasize process over content and student outcomes.
In grades K-8, the Michigan standards are organized into three strands:
- Listening, Speaking and Viewing
Each strand is then divided into multiple sub-strands, which are further divided into grade-level expectations.
In high school, however, a single set of standards is presented for grades 9-12, with no specific grade-level expectations. The strands (which have sub-strands) are:
- Writing, Speaking, and Expressing
- Reading, Listening, and Viewing
- Literature and Culture
Clarity & Specificity
In general, the Michigan standards are neither clear nor specific. In some cases, specific content is included, but more often broad statements take the place of specific, measurable expectations. Consider this fourth-grade Speaking standard:
Engage in interactive, extended discourse to socially construct meaning in book clubs, literature circles, partnerships, or other conversation (grade 4)
How would a teacher measure whether this expectation had been met?
A number of strands include entire sub-strands for which the purpose is unclear, and for which expectations are often difficult to understand, much less to measure. For instance, this standard, which is the only one to be found under the sub-strand â€œReading Attitude,â€ is listed for every grade, 3-8:
Be enthusiastic about reading and do substantial reading and writing on their own (grades 3-8)
Many other standards are repeated verbatim (or nearly verbatim) across grade levels, such as this â€œresponseâ€ standard in the Reading strand, repeated in grades 6, 7, and 8:
Respond to multiple text types when listened to or viewed knowledgeably, by discussing, illustrating, and/or writing in order to anticipate and answer questions; determine personal and universal themes; and offer opinions or solutions (grades 6-8)
A standard like this contains no specified outcomes, which is unfortunately true of the majority of Michiganâ€™s standards. The standards earn a score of one point out of three for Clarity and Specificity. (See Common Grading Metric.)
Content & Rigor
Speaking and listening standards are difficult to do well. However, Michiganâ€™s contain some good content, as in the standards under the Speaking sub-strand, â€œConventions,â€ that require students to â€œuse common grammatical structures correctly when speakingâ€ and to â€œspeak effectively using rhyme, rhythm, cadence, and word play for effect in narrative and informational presentations.â€
The listening standards in grades 6-8 also address the analysis of media, as in this seventh-grade standard:
Identify persuasive and propaganda techniques and analyze the effect on the view of images, text, and sound in the electronic media (e.g., television, movies), and determine if the techniques used achieved their intended effects (grade 7)
In high school, multimedia analysis and production are treated quite thoroughly.
Also in high school, the standards designate American literature as a topic for study, as in this example:
Explore the relationships among individual works, authors, and literary movements in English and American literature (e.g., Romanticism, Puritanism, the Harlem Renaissance, Postcolonial), and consider the historical, cultural, and societal contexts in which works were produced (high school)
The high school standards also ask students to:
Demonstrate knowledge of American minority literature and the contributions of minority writers (high school)
It is difficult to evaluate the rigor of such broad statements, but Michigan is to be commended for acknowledging the importance of studying our own literary heritage.
The weaknesses far outweigh the strengths of the Michigan standards, beginning with early reading content, which is rather superficial. The following â€œphonicsâ€ standard for Kindergarten is one of just four total:
Use grapho-phonemic (letter-sound) cues to recognize a few one-syllable words when presented completely out of context. Begin to associate letters and sounds, particularly initial and final consonants (Kindergarten)
The early reading standards, moreover, appear to offer phonics as a choice among reading strategies, as in this â€œWord recognition, Word Study and Fluencyâ€ standard in Kindergarten:
Narrow possibilities in predicting words using initial letters/sounds (phonics), patterns of language (syntactic), and picture clues (semantic) (Kindergarten)
In addition, the Reading strand includes a â€œMetacognitionâ€ sub-strand in which reading â€œstrategiesâ€ (e.g., â€œmaking credible predictions based on illustrationsâ€) eclipse word study.
Where vocabulary is concerned, there is only one standard that ostensibly addresses word structure, but the standards emphasize other strategies for determining word meaning, such as â€œcontext clues,â€ â€œmental pictures,â€ â€œsemantic feature analysis,â€ and â€œquestioning.â€ Use of a dictionary is mentioned only twiceâ€”once in third grade and once in high school.
The analysis of literary text is overly concerned with politically correct interpretations of literature rather than close examination of genres, characteristics of genres, literary elements, and literary devices. Consider this seventh-grade standard:
Investigate various examples of distortion and stereotypes such as those associated with gender, race, culture, age, class, religion, and other individual differences through classic, multicultural, and contemporary literature recognized for quality and literary merit (grade 7)
It is far from clear what actual knowledge or skills a student should demonstrate to meet this standard, but it has very little to do with analysis of genres, structures, literary elements, or devices.
Another standard asks students to:
Describe how characters form opinions about one another in ways that can be fair and unfair in classic, multicultural, and contemporary literature recognized for quality and literary merit (grade 6)
Asking students to judge whether characters are â€œfairâ€ or not seems at least idiosyncratic, if not ridiculous.
Informational text structures and features are covered in a rudimentary way, without much detail, and the analysis of informational text is thin, without any reference to the analysis of reasoning and the truthfulness or validity of arguments. In high school, where informational text is mentioned, it is tossed in with literary text, as in this high school standard:
Examine differing and diverse interpretations of literary and expository works and explain how and why interpretation may vary from reader to reader (high school)
The standard hardly provides guidance for teachers at different grade levels about how students should analyze informational text structures and features.
Michiganâ€™s writing standards emphasize narrative writing, which appears at nearly every grade level from K-8. Other â€œgenresâ€ are sprinkled across grades and treated summarily, as in this standard from eighth grade:
Write an historical expository piece such as a journal, biography, or simulated memoir that includes appropriate organization, illustrations, marginal notes and/or annotations (grade 8)
In high school, writing is addressed in a strand called, Writing, Speaking and Visual Expression. Explicit writing expectations are often missing. One unmeasurable â€œwriting attitudeâ€ standard is included; it simply exhorts students at each grade level from K-8 to â€œbe enthusiastic about writing and learning to write.â€
Standards for grammar and usage are pell-mell. They include some specific content, but also tend to include arbitrary grade-level assignments. â€œInfinitives, gerunds, participial phrases, and dashes or ellipsesâ€ are to be covered in eighth grade. Continuous verb tenses (which could easily be moved down several grades) are to be covered in seventh grade, yet â€œadjective and adverbial subordinate clausesâ€ (which are more difficult) are to be covered in sixth. Spelling standards are, for the most part, very superficial.
Speaking and Listening standards could be more rigorous, especially in high school, where they are lost in two strands. The treatment of reading and writing also suffers in high school because too many of these â€œhybridâ€ standards are skillsbased statements that are ultimately devoid of content, such as:
Compose written, spoken, and/or multimedia compositions in a range of genres (e.g., personal narrative, biography, poem, fiction, drama, creative nonfiction, summary, literary analysis essay, research report, or work-related text): pieces that serve a variety of purposes (e.g., expressive, informative, creative, and persuasive) and that use a variety of organizational patterns (e.g., autobiography, free verse, dialogue, comparison/contrast, definition, or cause and effect) (high school)
It would be far more helpful to teachers to describe the expected characteristics of each genre listed, and to state which genres are most appropriate for study at each grade level.
Standards for formal oral presentation are included, but only nominally and mostly in grades K-8, where students are asked to use, for example, â€œan informational organizational patternâ€ but are never asked to do more important things like anticipating counterclaims.
In sum, despite some laudable efforts, these standards are too fraught with vague language and nonacademic expectations to comprise a rigorous set of expectations for students and teachers. Consequently, they can earn no higher than two points out of seven for Content and Rigor. (See Common Grading Metric.)
THE BOTTOM LINE
With their grade of D, Michiganâ€™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 Great Lake State has in place today.
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