Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Response to Utah Governor's Invitation for Public Comment on the State's ELA and Math Standards

A month ago, Governor Herbert - in an attempt to quell the controversy sustained by the very vocal opponents of Utah's adoption of the Utah State Standards for Language Arts and Math - invited citizens to weigh in on this topic. Today, I did that. While the original deadline was July 31, 2014, I understand citizens can still complete the survey and leave

If you want your voice heard, here is where you go: http://www.utah.gov/governor/priorities/education.html

Once you arrive at the site, you will find links to the actual standards for ELA and Math, along with the following statement:  
The Governor has requested a special review of the Mathematics and English Language Arts Standards by a group of higher education professionals and other stakeholders, to assure they are meeting the needs of Utah students. As part of this review, we are inviting parents, teachers, education professionals and other community members to provide feedback on the content of these standards. This feedback can be positive or negative, and can address a specific standard or a subset of standards.
Next, you are invited to take the survey which asks a few basic questions: your level of support, or lack thereof, of the ELA and Math standards. I replied that I generally support these standards with continuing improvement. The survey then asks for suggestions.

This is my response for the ELA standards:
One possible suggestion is to revise Appendix B that lists excerpts from various texts representing "exemplars of reading text complexity, quality, and range & sample performance tasks related to core standards". These sample texts range from classic literature, famous speeches and documents, as well as critically acclaimed contemporary literature, but they are NOT mandated curriculum, a point many citizens miss. Nevertheless, a few exemplars do not represent some communities' standards, and so I suggest that the State Board of Education and the Utah State Office of Education include educators and parents in revising this appendix so that the exemplars are more representative of our state's standards. This process should not disregard the the purpose of the exemplars in providing samples of complex texts that challenge our students' thinking.
The following are my suggestions for math:
Math is not my expertise, but I have read over the objectives and understand that while this is NOT the "way we learned math", the standards represent stronger problem-solving procedures and make math more relevant to real-world application. Because teachers can't limit their practices to teaching "just" algebra, but must understand many mathematical concepts and then teach and guide students through them, teachers should receive more professional development. Parents are often at a loss in helping students with their homework, and so I suggest that tutoring moms and dads would be helpful and might build confidence in the standards. 
The final comment asks participants to address the pros and/or cons of the standards, requiring that statements refer to specifics of the core. Here is what I shared:
The best feature of the Utah Standards, as they presently exist, is that they represent learning objectives that build from kindergarten through grade 12. Reed Spencer, former USOE Language Arts Specialist, proposed creating aligned K-12 standards nearly a year before the Common Core State Standards became public. He and other state leaders recognized the advantages and strengths of an action that deepens learning through a spiraling effect building on what students know and are able to do from one grade to the next. Let us please NOT step backwards after so much thought, study, time, and money has been spent in bringing about improved standards that can only benefit our students.
Update: A recent Deseret News story reported that a poll conducted by Dan Jones and Associates revealed 41% of Utahns oppose the "Common Core", and yet only "1 in 5 [could] accurately identify what they are". Informed or not, these opposing voices are loud and strong. Additionally, 29% of those interviewed had no opinion or admitted to not having enough information to decide.

One or two of my neighbors have asked me how I feel about the core, but they have not read the standards. Instead, they talked to me about what they had "heard about the standards" from talk show hosts and others. I offered to walk them through the actual standards, but as yet, no one has taken me up on that offer.

Through this long process, I have learned something very valuable: When people make up their minds about something, they do not want to change their viewpoints, regardless of the validity of the information. (And this doesn't just apply to educational issues!) I have investigated the opposing view points and learned that conspiracy fears drive their arguments. Quotations from radical elements have convinced many that these standards are the beginning of a secularized, liberal push to control our students' educations via the federal government.

My only response is to dothe homework by studying the information AND the distributors of that information. I really believe that a thorough study of the standards themselves will build understanding. Remember, too, that the state and local school boards that include community members have the ultimate say over what constitutes the curriculum used to teach the standards. - The government does NOT mandate what text books, trade books, speeches or novels can be used in Utah's schools. We do. But Governor Herbert hopes this survey and study will quiet the controversy. Let's cross our fingers!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Revival of Sorts

After a two-year hiatus, I am reviving Link2Literacy. I recently retired from my position as a district secondary literacy specialist, but my passion for spreading the good word of reading, writing, listening, speaking and thinking prompts me to keep at it via this blog.

My plans to continue my membership in the International Reading Association's state and local councils includes maintaining the Facebook page for Jordan Council of the International Reading Association (JCIRA). The main objective is to build membership for JCIRA and UCIRA (Utah Council of the International Reading Association). In so doing I hope to provide helpful information and support for members who are either educators, lovers of literacy, or both!

As a heads-up, the opinions of Link2Literacy will represent my own, and as such, I hope members' comments will either straighten me out or pat me on the back or something in between! While I have strong opinions about many topics, I do NOT bask in controversy. That takes just too darn much energy and brings forth irritability. Consequently, cantankerous criticism should be held to a minimum.

The reason I share this heads-up is because my next post will be about my 4-year journey with the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards Utah Core State Standards. Stay tuned!

CCSS: Tempest in a Teapot?