There is only one standard that must be met for ELA in New York State. Close reading. All educational endeavors in New York State in English Language Arts are governed by close reading.
That is it. Close reading is the anchor standard, and the entire ELA curriculum in NYS is now driven by close reading because you can not pass the ELA Regents in New York State unless you are proficient in one standard. Close reading. The ELA Regents is wholly driven by close reading; not knowledge of grammar or punctuation, or verb tenses, not comprehension of the works studied over the years in school, or even a passing interest in literature. Just close reading.
Designing the ELA regents to only focus on one standard, close reading, is sold as a high standard but is really a cost efficiency. Students are no longer asked open ended questions about literature that they have read during their education, nor are they asked to write opinion pieces on topics of interest, or business letters to express a concern. Students now are tested by having to read a set of texts, excerpts or documents, and provide an answer based on a specific and narrow constraint. The end result, in the idealized world of those that are pushing “high standards” is that all students willwrite a standard response.
The current standard of having every student in NYS needing to write a uniform response in order to graduate and earn a high school diploma means that NYSED puts more value on being able to grade an essay with a computer then it does it fostering innovative, creative writers and thinkers.
The ACT recently published a report on a recent survey of what educators and business found to be important skills.
“Finding 1: There is general agreement that students and employees should be able to write for a variety of purposes, audiences and context.”
So, students should be proficient at many writing styles, not just standard essays to pass one standardized test.
In the second finding, 47% of college professors stated that the most important writing skill is students should be generating sound ideas for writing. New York State education and common core standards puts the focus on teaching students to critically analyze source text so it is no surprise that 43% of high school teachers put the Common Core anchor standard as the most important skill. College professors put the ability to use language conventions proficiently above critically analyzing text. College professors put the least value on being able to clearly summarize other author’s ideas in writing , which makes sense. College professors want students who can generate their own ideas.
The final finding relates to reading, and college professors want students who can determine the central meaning of a text, identify important details, draw conclusions and make inferences, evaluate evidence and/or support for an author’s claim and distinguish among fact, opinion and reasoned judgement.
These are skills that are developed with reading, and discussion, building vocabulary and comprehension. Close reading focuses on minute details, and on answering questions that direct a student to focus on a very specific section of text and determine the answers to a set of multiple choice questions.
The second part of High Standard (Singular) will go through examples of past Common Core aligned ELA regents and illustrate how the close reading standard is used to narrow instruction and only emphasize one skill.
Thank you to Nicholas Tampio, Associate Professor at Fordham University, for raising awareness of the problem with the anchor standard and why it needs to be changed in this op-ed piece.
Thank you to Susan Ryan Murphy, who has patiently asked all my ELA regents questions and who has been advocating for many changes to the ELA regents exams. This is her letter to NYSED and the Regents pushing for changes to the grading scheme.