Inspired by Michael Holquist’s challenge to the MLA to dialogue about the CCSI, what it means for us, and our relationship to secondary education, this is a space for discussion of standards, assessment, and our role in this process.

Projects for the Council's K-16 Education Committee?

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    Margaret W. Ferguson

    What would members of this Discussion Group like the Council’s K-16 Education Committee to do?  As Chair of that Committee, I have an idea for a project that would involve establishing  partnerships among college and secondary school teachers to discuss implementing the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts; how could college teachers support secondary school teachers in your home environment?  Are there materials that could be shared on “text complexity” or “college readiness”?   Do you know of partnerships already in existence?  There is an excellent one that faculty from Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts participate in.  I would like to learn more about it and hope to gather information that might lead to a grant application. For the “partnership”  idea (in germinal form) and some further comments about the CCSSI and the MLA, please take a look at my column in the Summer Newsletter, at


    Stacey Lee Donohue

    Looking forward to hearing more about successful collaborations between HS and college instructors.  I’m finding that such collaborations are often challenging because of the following barriers, so would love to see the MLA, or any organization, come up with strategies to address them:

    1. HS  instructors do not get release time to work on curriculum development or any collaborations. They simply do not have the time to meet unless it’s in the evenings—which is when any English teacher is grading the 150 papers they get each week.

    2. When collaborating does occur, HS administrators sit at the table instead of HS instructors, and their focus is more on dual enrollment/college credit in the high schools, rather than re-calibrating the curriculum to meet the Common Core standards.



    David Laurence

    Those following this Commons group may find useful as an introduction to the Common Core Standards the first chapter of Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement, by Lucy Calkins and her colleagues Mary Ehrenworth and Christopher Lehman. The chapter is available to download free from the Web site of the Reading and Writing Project that Calkins leads from Teacher College, Columbia University. I find especially useful the “con” and “pro” view of the standards the chapter presents under the (admittedly tendentious) heads, “Reading the Common Core State Standards as Curmudgeons” and “Reading the Common Core State Standards as if They Are Gold.”


    Todd Wayne Butler

    As a faculty member (and parent) in Washington State, which has recently become the first state to have its federal waiver of No Child Left Behind revoked by the Department of Education, I find this a particularly important issue. I appreciate the challenge Margaret poses–especially if it’s communicated to faculty at R1 universities, who may more frequently see themselves detached from the concerns of secondary educators. That’s a dangerous stance to take, especially when I see (and work with) members of our own state education bureaucracy seeking to bypass much of the first year of college instruction through test-based certifications of “college-readiness.”

    Like many individuals on this forum and in the MLA, I have deep reservations about the Common Core. If we are going to pursue partnerships with secondary teachers–and here I want to second Stacy’s endorsement above of empowering *teachers*–I’d suggest one area of engagement (and there are certainly others) is in expanding the range of texts and approaches that could be taught within these standards. Despite the CCSS’ emphasis on including a wider variety of texts, including non-fiction and international material, I suspect that in implementation this variety will be much more constrained, with (for example) “international” coming to mean non-British/American but typically European, and non-fiction being limited to familiar texts (MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech?). Helping to  present options beyond the “default setting”–truly global literature (African, work from the Indian subcontinent, etc.) or non-fiction texts that bring forward marginalized viewpoints–not only draws upon our strength as a diverse organization but also suggests a form of resistance, however slight, to the implicit expectations embedded in the CCSS.

    One note of caution–if we pursue such partnerships, and I think we should, they need to be based on the recognition that secondary teachers possess their own expertise and face learning environments with distinct challenges that require potentially distinct ways of addressing them. We need to be willing to learn from those teachers as much as “instruct” them, and be willing to take what we learn back into our own home departments so that those lessons might better inform not only specialized English Education curricula but also our broader approach to teaching and learning.


    David Laurence

    Closely associated with the Common Core State Standards are two test-development consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness (often referred to as PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). PARCC and SBAC are in the midst of field testing assessments designed to track and inform students of their individual progress to “readiness” at each grade level, in alignment with the  grade-level standards the Common Core sets forth. The testing is planned to be fully implemented in the 2014-15 school year. The consortia and the elaborate testing regimes they are creating have already occasioned controversy and protest, including refusal to participate in taking the tests.

    The tests in English language arts include written responses that will be evaluated by machine rather than by human readers. The educational and technical issues around machine evaluation of writing and are being actively debated  and have great intrinsic interest for MLA members, as well as immediate practical concern for US public education, students, teachers, parents, and the schools. MLA members seeking to inform themselves will want to consult the annotated bibliography, Uses and Limitations of Automated Writing Evaluation Software,” compiled by  Norbert Elliot, Anne Ruggles Gere, Gail Gibson, Christie Toth, Carl Whithaus, and Amanda Presswood, item #23 in the Writing Program Administrators’ WPA-CompPile Research Bibliographies Web site. 

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