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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.
While the organization of the North Dakota ELA standards is fairly clear and straightforward, the expectations themselves are vague, and what limited rigorous content exists is buried deep among distracting and unnecessary standard-specific rubrics.
The K-12 North Dakota ELA standards are organized first into six content standards, which are common across all grade levels and provide â€œa [very broad] description of what students should know and be able to do within English language arts,â€ including:
- Standard 1: Students engage in the research process
- Standard 2: Students engage in the reading process
- Standard 3: Students engage in the writing process
- Standard 4: Students engage in the speaking and listening process
- Standard 5: Students understand media
- Standard 6: Students understand and use principles of language
These six standards are divided into topics, then into grade-level â€œbenchmark expectations.â€
The state also provides â€œachievement standardsâ€ for each benchmark expectation. These are essentially rubrics describing four levels of proficiency for each benchmark expectationâ€”advanced proficient, proficient, partially proficient, and novice.
Clarity & Specificity
While North Dakota has striven to define grade-specific expectations for ELA, there is little to crow about in this framework.
On the positive side, the standards are presented clearly and in easy-to-read format. Some provide examples and lists to clarify expectations, such as the following third-grade writing and sixth-grade reading standards:
Organize and develop paragraphs with topic sentences, indentation, punctuation, and capitalization (grade 3)
Identify literary elements, including plot, setting, characters, conflict, resolution, dialogue, and flashback (grade 6)
Identify figurative language, including personification, simile, metaphor (grade 6)
The early-reading benchmarks dealing with phonics and phonemic awareness are also reasonably specific, though several need additional detail to further clarify expectations for teachers and students.
Unfortunately, the few adequately detailed benchmark expectations are dwarfed by the sheer number of vaguely worded expectations that leave far too much room for interpretation. Take, for example, the following sixth-grade writing benchmark expectation:
Use strategies to write for different audiences and purposes (grade 6)
By failing to define the audiences or purposes for writing, this standard is essentially meaningless.
In addition, the rigor of benchmark expectations is neither well developed nor aligned from grade to grade. For example, the standards expect students to write persuasive essays in the upper elementary grades, but arenâ€™t expected to â€œidentify persuasive textsâ€ until ninth grade. Similarly, the standards ask the students to â€œuse and interpret the meaning of similes, metaphors, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and idiomsâ€ at grade 4, but are asked only to identify these elements of figurative language at grade 6.
Finally, the â€œachievement standardsâ€ represent a missed opportunity to clarify expectations. Rather than provide explicit standard- and grade-specific guidance, these rubrics often include generic statements that make empty distinctions between achievement levels. Take, for example, the following achievement standards for the second-grade reading standard â€œRelate [sic] text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connectionsâ€:
Students make insightful text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections.
Students consistently make text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections.
Students sometimes make text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections.
Students rarely make text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections.
Such explanations do nothing to clarify what, precisely, students should know and be able to do.
Such critical shortcomings leave North Dakota with a score of one point out of three for Clarity and Specificity. (See Common Grading Metric.)
Content & Rigor
The research standard is perhaps the strongest of the North Dakota content strands, with benchmarks that show a clear progression of skills from grade to grade and clearly require students to learn all the essential elements of the research process.
Standards for English language conventions are reasonably strong, covering nearly all the essential grammar content that students must master to be college- and career-ready. The early-reading standards also demonstrate a clear focus on essential phonics and phonemic awareness skills.
Finally, North Dakota makes some attempts to prioritize essential content across the grades. For example, narrative writing drops out in high school so the focus there is clearly where it should be, on informational and persuasive writing.
Unfortunately, many of the benchmark expectations fail to specify the critical content that students must master to be college- and career-ready.
Vocabulary standards do not address etymology and mention learning Greek and Latin roots only in passing. Connotation and denotation are not explicitly mentioned until ninth grade, and there are no vocabulary standards for tenth grade.
The reading standards for middle and high school are often general. In grades 5-8, the state fails to articulate meaningful expectations around the analysis of informational texts, and the high school standards are not sufficiently rigorous. For example, one ninth-grade benchmark requires students to:
Identify the organizational features of fiction, drama, and poetry, i.e., stanza, act, scene, chapter, verse, and article (grade 9)
In high school, students should be doing much more sophisticated literary analysis.
Across all grade levels, the standards also fail even to mention American literature and provide no guidance about the quality or number of texts that students should be reading from grade to grade.
The standards addressing media are muddled, as they define media as any mass mediaâ€”newspapers, magazines, booksâ€”and therefore fail to distinguish multimedia from print as a genre.
Finally, the K-12 standards are riddled with unnecessary, distracting, and unmeasurable benchmarks, such as:
Read to develop life-long reading skills and habits (grade 6)
Use graphic organizers and summarizing to enhance comprehension (grade 6)
Apply universal themes to real-life situations (grade 10)
Such benchmarks add no value, and North Dakota would do well to delete them to leave room for more detailed, content-driven benchmark expectations in every grade.
Whatâ€™s more, the majority of North Dakotaâ€™s standards document is devoted to the â€œachievement standards,â€ which, as mentioned above, add little value. For each benchmark expectation, four proficiency descriptors are provided in the achievement standards rubrics, but these proficiency descriptors make meaningless distinctions between levels. Given that such statements make up 80 percent of the text on each page of the standards, their lack of utility and applicability is a serious failing.
Taken together, the combination of vaguely worded standards that leave as much as 65 percent of the essential K-12 ELA content missing and the inclusion of repetitive, vacuous achievement standards that put a disproportionate emphasis on unnecessary (and unhelpful) content earn the state a score of two points out of seven for Content and Rigor. (See Common Grading Metric.)
THE BOTTOM LINE
With their grade of D, North Dakotaâ€™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 Peace Garden State has in place today.
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