The English Language Arts Common Core State Standards (CCSS) wants students to read in every discipline from elementary school through grade 12. The standards demand an increase in the reading of informational texts, the genre formally known as non-fiction. So where is the passage that concludes that English/Language Arts teachers will continue to teach fiction and literary non-fiction while other disciplines increase reading in informational texts? Where is the passage that dispels the notion that English/Language Arts teachers are not required to meet the 70% required reading of informational texts in their classrooms? Where is the passage that clarifies where students will read more informational texts across the curriculum by senior year?
Well, the passage is a footnote on page 5:
Footnote: 1 The percentages on the table reflect the sum of student reading, not just reading in ELA settings. Teachers of senior English classes, for example, are not required to devote 70 percent of reading to informational texts. Rather, 70 percent of student reading across the grade should be informational.
Why is an explanation of this magnitude only a footnote? By definition, a footnote is:
1. A note placed at the bottom of a page of a book or manuscript that comments on or cites a reference for a designated part of the text;
2. Something related to but of lesser importance than a larger work or occurrence.
This footnote on page 5 of the CCSS functions to clarify that English/Language Arts teachers are not responsible for the increase in reading informational texts. Is this footnote, according to the definition, “Something related to but of lesser importance than a larger work or occurrence”? Why is this statement not given more importance in an English/Language Arts document? Why is this statement not written in bold? Why is this statement not a separate bullet point in Key Designs Considerations? Why is this statement relegated to be a footnote?
The specific ratio of how much reading students should do in in fiction and informational texts can be found in a chart in the ELA CCSS taken from the 2009 reading framework of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This chart sets up the progression from an even split between fiction and informational texts in grade 4 to the 30% fiction and 70% informational text ratio expected by grade 12.
The chart is on the Key Designs Considerations page and addresses the demands to include informational texts because “a great deal of informational reading in grades 6–12 must take place in other classes if the NAEP assessment framework is to be matched instructionally.”
Really? If the NAEP assessment framework is to be matched? Why “if”? The only way the ratio for 70% informational texts will meet the NAEP assessment framework is “WHEN” there is an increase of informational texts in classes other than English. Additonally, it is highly unlikely that English teachers will teach a reduced percentage of fiction or literary non-fiction as students move from elementary (Grade 4) to middle (Grade 8) to high school (Grade 12), and there is nothing in the standards that specifies the ratio of fiction to other texts in an English classroom.
So, heads up History/Social Studies, Science and the Technical Areas teachers, the CCSS English/Language Arts Framework is looking at you!
While English/Language Arts teachers are developing curriculum to align with the CCSS, how many of the History/Social Studies, Science and the Technical Areas teachers are informed and cooperating in the incorporation of informational texts? Are teachers in History/Social Studies, Science and the Technical Areas developing additional reading to their specific curriculum? Hopefully they are, but my sense is that these resources will take time to develop and integrate.
Already, I have heard the argument from teachers in disciplines other than English/Language Arts moaning, “what do I drop out of my course to include reading?” -which could be read as the reason why the authors of the ELA CCSS felt the need to develop reading and writing standards for History, Social Studies, Science and the Technical Areas teachers. A sidebar column in the document explains the need for other disciplines to increase reading:
“Reading is critical to building knowledge in history/social studies as well as in science and technical subjects. College and career ready reading in these fields requires an appreciation of the norms and conventions of each discipline, such as the kinds of evidence used in history and science; an understanding of domain-specific words and phrases; an attention to precise details; and the capacity to evaluate intricate arguments, synthesize complex information, and follow detailed descriptions of events and concepts…Students must be able to read complex informational texts in these fields with independence and confidence because the vast majority of reading in college and workforce training programs will be sophisticated nonfiction (60).”
The last sentence of this section should be in bold: “It is important to note that these Reading standards are meant to complement the specific content demands of the disciplines, not replace them.”
While the teachers of History, Social Studies, Science and the Technical Areas are on notice to include more informational texts, these standards still fall under the English Language Arts Framework which begs the question, who will be responsible for enforcing these standards? Will the testing of a student’s comprehension of informational texts be assigned to a discipline other than English/Language Arts? Will overall reading scores reflect on an entire school, as it should, or will reading scores reflect on the English/Language Arts departments since the CCSS frameworks are designed under the heading English Language Arts frameworks?
Of course, many English teachers, fearing the removal of fiction and literary non-fiction (essays, memoir, etc), raised their concerns about the demand for informational texts. Responding to these concerns (among others), the CCSS developed a page on their website titled Myths vs. Facts.
Here, the CCSS attempts to clear the confusion as to what reading will be done in English/Language Arts:
Myth: English teachers will be asked to teach science and social studies reading materials.
Fact: With the Common Core ELA Standards, English teachers will still teach their students literature as well as literary non‐fiction. However, because college and career readiness overwhelmingly focuses on complex texts outside of literature, these standards also ensure students are being prepared to read, write, and research across the curriculum, including in history and science. These goals can be achieved by ensuring that teachers in other disciplines are also focusing on reading and writing to build knowledge within their subject areas.
Unfortunately, the CCSS’s use of footnotes and charts to define the percentages in the increases in informational text reading leaves questions as to which exactly how each discipline will be held responsible. The CCSS makes the assumption that other disciplines will incorporate more reading under a English/Language Arts framework. The CCSS states that the English/Language Arts classrooms will not be required to replace their fiction and literary non-fiction with informational texts, but infers that there will be a mechanism “to ensure that teachers in other disciplines are also focusing on reading and writing to build knowledge within their subject areas.” The method of measuring the increase and the results of this increase is yet to be determined. The process of how reading will be incorporated across the curriculum needs more than an assumption and an inference. For English/Language Arts teachers there is a footnote is where the “devil is in the details”, but only if all other stakeholders in this shift to a Common Core curriculum read that footnote.