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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 Mississippi standards are mysterious, as if they were constructed to obfuscate rather than clarify student expectations. They are organized under just two headings: Reading and Writing. Some content is strong, as in early reading, but most of the standards are characterized by complicated and repetitive prose in which content and skills are mostly disconnected from one another, making it difficult to identify the expectations for students.
Mississippiâ€™s standards are organized under the two headings Reading and Writing. Each of these is divided into two â€œcompetencies.â€ For Reading, the competencies are â€œword recognitionâ€ and â€œvocabulary & reading strategiesâ€ and for Writing they are â€œexpress, communicate, evaluate, or exchange ideas effectivelyâ€ and â€œapply standard Englishâ€ [sic]. These four competencies comprise the required learning for all students, according to the state, although they are further broken into more detailed â€œobjectivesâ€ and numbered bullet points for each grade K-12.
Clarity & Specificity
The Mississippi standards are specific in some places, but overall they are woefully lacking in clarity and extremely repetitive, making it impossible to identify specific expectations for students at each grade level.
In many cases, the standards include overarching statements jam-packed with skills for students to demonstrate, as in the following grade 10 reading objective:
The student will analyze (e.g., interpret, compare, contrast, evaluate, etc.) literary elements in multiple texts from a variety of genres and media for their effect on meaning (grade 10)
This and other skills-based statements are often followed by bulleted lists of specific content. The tenth-grade standard shown above, for example, is followed by a list of nearly every genre and literary device imaginable (along with a shorter list for informational texts). No connection is ever made between the skills and the content. Which verbs in the overarching statement go with which predicates in the bulleted listâ€”and to what end? Separating the skills from the content in this way makes it impossible to know what students are supposed to be learning.
Besides this confusion, repetition of standards verbatim (or nearly verbatim) across grade levels further clouds Mississippiâ€™s expectations for students. The long list of genres and literary devices that accompanies the standard above is repeated nearly verbatim from grades 2-7:
The student will identify (â€œuseâ€ at grade 7) and use (â€œproduceâ€ at grade 4) grade-level synonyms, antonyms and homonyms (grades 2-7)
One happy exception is in the â€œword recognitionâ€ competency in the early grades, which is quite specific about phonemic awareness, phonics, and vocabulary development.
These critical shortcomings leave Mississippi with one point out of three for Clarity and Specificity. (See Common Grading Metric.)
Content & Rigor
Phonemic awareness and phonics are both addressed systematically and in great detail, with examples, as in these first grade objectives:
Identify and produce rhyming words orally that include consonant blends and digraphs (e.g., flat/splat, trap/snap, sing/ ring) (grade 1)
Identify, blend, and segment syllables within spoken words (e.g., clap the syllables in â€œbi-cy-cle,â€ bas + ket + ball = basketball, telephone = tel + e + phone) (grade 1)
Fluency targets are identified, including specific numbers of high-frequency and irregularly spelled words. The vocabulary objectives are detailed, with lists of roots and affixes for each grade. Dependence on context clues seems minimal, and the use of reference materials, such as the dictionary, is required.
Another bright spot is the analysis of the â€œtools of persuasion,â€ which builds from grades 4-8 and culminates in these objectives:
- Evaluate the authorâ€™s use of and distinguish between fact and opinion
- Evaluate use of tools of persuasion (e.g., name calling, endorsement, repetition, air and rebut the other sideâ€™s point of view, association, stereotypes, bandwagon, plain folks, tabloid thinking, shock tactics and fear, intertextual references, card stacking, slanted words, glittering generalities, false syllogisms, etc). (grade 8)
Not many state standards address these specific â€œtools of persuasion,â€ and it is a shame that Mississippiâ€™s high school standards donâ€™t do more of it at higher levels of complexity.
Standards for grammar are included under the writing competency, and they are detailed if a bit repetitive. Good examples are offered to illustrate expectations in some cases.
Mississippiâ€™s reading comprehension standards are bloated, repetitive, and skills-based, with little connection between the skills and any content. For example, competency two states:
The student will apply strategies and skills to comprehend, respond to, interpret, or evaluate a variety of texts of increasing levels of length, difficulty, and complexity
As is clear from the objectives attached to it, this competency conflates literary and informational texts and does not make important distinctions about how each type should be read and analyzed.
Nowhere is the study of American literature required, nor are any examples offered of the quality and complexity of reading that students should be doing.
The writing standards are process-heavy and repetitive across grades. Products are superficially treated, even in eleventh grade, as in this objective:
The student will compose formal persuasive texts, providing evidence as support (grade 11)
By the junior year of high school, we would expect to see more detail about the necessary characteristics of persuasive writing, such as the use of rhetorical techniques, the anticipation of counterclaims, and the quality of the reasoning.
Research is given sporadic treatment, first in the reading comprehension section for grades 9-12, where the same standard is repeated for each grade:
The student will apply understanding of electronic text features to gain information or research a topic using electronic libraries (grades 9-12)
Research is also addressed in the writing section of the standards, with some coverage beginning in second grade. The research process is outlined, but the only products specified are â€œto present the results using a variety of communication techniques.â€ No standards address proper citation of sources. In high school, the standards for research simply state that students will:
Research a topic comparing and/or contrasting information from a variety of sources to present findings (grade 10)
Research papers are mentioned briefly at twelfth grade, but no characteristics or page lengths are provided.
Finally, it must be noted that Mississippi has no standards for listening and speaking, and that different media are only nominally mentioned in the publishing phase of the writing process where students are asked to â€œpublish writing formally and informally using a variety of media.â€ Such omissions are glaring.
The missing content coupled with the vague and repetitive language makes it impossible to understand what is expected of Mississippiâ€™s students.
Taken together, close to 65 percent of the essential K-12 ELA content is missing from these standards, leaving Mississippi with three points out of seven for Content and Rigor. (See Common Grading Metric.)
THE BOTTOM LINE
With their grade of D, Mississippiâ€™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 Magnolia State has in place today.
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