Education Week - June 10, 2015 - (Page 6)
Debate Persists Around Kindergarten Reading Standards
By Liana Heitin
Among the many debates around
the Common Core State Standards is
an ongoing one about kindergarten:
Do the standards ask too much of 5and 6-year-olds in reading?
At the heart of the dispute is a
literacy standard that says kindergartners should be able to "read
emergent-reader texts with purpose
and understanding." Experts agree
it's a more advanced expectation
than appeared in most previous state
standards-but there's less consensus
on whether it's a better expression of
what kindergarten pupils should be
doing or an overreach. And a series of
papers in recent weeks and months is
keeping the debate alive.
Critics of the common core argue
that the standard is not "developmentally appropriate." They say kindergartners should be in play-based
programs, and such lofty expectations
are leading to harmful "drill and kill"
That standard in particular is
"revolutionizing what kindergarten
looks like in this country," said Nancy
Carlsson-Paige, a professor emerita
at Lesley University in Cambridge,
Mass., and a co-founder of the advocacy group Defending the Early Years.
"There are less developmentally appropriate play-based experiences for
Proponents of the common core,
however, say such claims are based
on misreadings of the common standards. In two briefs published on the
topic last week, Student Achievement
Partners, a professional-development
group founded by the lead writers of
the standards, points out that the
standards don't require mastery in
foundational reading skills; they
just require kindergartners to show
they're making progress. The standards are also compatible with playbased experiences and even contain a
note encouraging them, they say.
In addition, many literacy experts
say that while the standards themselves are developmentally appropriate, the instructional methods teachers are using to tackle them aren't
"You can have a classroom that's
very unplayful, and kids are still
learning very little literacy in there,
or you can have a playful one, and
they learn a lot of literacy," said Kathleen Roskos, a professor of education
at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio, and an expert in
early-literacy development. "I've seen
so many kids that are delighted reading to dolls and then going to a story
chart, taking the pointer, and tracking print, and they're finding it to be
the most fun in the world. It depends
on the conditions."
Perceptions of Difficulty
The common core defines emergent-reader texts as those with short
sentences made up of learned sight
words, such as "the," "he," and "is," and
consonant-vowel-consonant words like
"cat" or "mop." Such texts may also
contain symbols that represent words
children may not yet know.
People without a literacy background may imagine such texts to
be more difficult than they are, said
Nell K. Duke, a professor of literacy,
language, and culture at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "In
their thinking, it's a cold reading of a
brand-new text with words students
have never seen," she said. "And that's
not what they're looking for in the
Common Core State Standards."
Ms. Duke offers the example of an
emergent-reader text from TextProject, a free online resource for teachers, called Buns and Jam. The short
book starts with a picture of buns
and the corresponding word. The
next page has a picture of jam with
that word, and the final page of the
book has another picture and says,
"Jam on buns. Yum!"
Although pediatricians have agreed
somewhat on when children should
reach developmental milestones
such as crawling and walking, developmental stages in reading are less
concrete. (The one marker most literacy experts generally agree on is that
students who don't read by the end of
3rd grade will continue to struggle.)
The term "developmentally appropriate practice" was coined by the
National Association for the Education of Young Children in the 1980s
and is defined as practice "that
promotes young children's optimal
learning and development" and is
informed by what teachers know "1)
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about child development and learning; 2) about each child as an individual; and 3) about the social and
cultural contexts each child lives in."
The naeyc published a paper in
April noting that, while the common
standards are generally consistent
with developmentally appropriate
practice, they run the risk of restricting the early-childhood curriculum
and leading to assessment methods
that are inappropriate for young
Defending the Early Years argues
that the standard about emergentreader texts doesn't take young pupils' differences, and the range of
years in which they develop, into account, as developmentally appropriate practice requires.
"There's an expectation that all children learn the same thing at the same
time," said Ms. Carlsson-Paige. "And
that doesn't happen unless there's
some kind of coercion involved."
She notes that while some of the
standards begin with the words "with
prompting and support," that particular standard does not.
The recent Student Achievement
Partners brief on myths and facts
about the common-core K-3 language
arts standards, written in response to
the advocacy group's claims, points
to a note in the introduction for the
K-5 reading foundational skills that
states kindergartners "are expected
to demonstrate increasing awareness
and competence"-not mastery.
"We have that qualifier on top saying that some students may not able
[to read emergent-reader texts], but
they're expected to make progress,"
said David Liben, a senior content specialist for the literacy team at the New
York-based group and a co-author of
the briefs. "And that's huge." No other
grade levels include such a qualifier.
Ms. Carlsson-Paige says the organization is just "backpedaling."
"Teachers use the standards, they're
not reading obscure introductory material. ... I'll eat my hat if anyone ever
saw that note." Defending the Early
Years would like to see the standard
retracted, she said.
Worksheets and Drills
In a January report, the earlyyears group also argues that the requirement that kindergartners read
has led to "increasing reports of kindergartens that use worksheets and
drills, rely on lengthy whole-group
lessons, and require teachers to frequently pull children out of the classroom to administer assessments."
Again, Student Achievement Partners claims that's an instructional
issue, not a standards one. "It's important to understand that drill and
kill is not the right way to teach almost anything," said Mr. Liben. "That
doesn't mean we should eliminate the
standard because some people are
implementing it incorrectly."
Another major hitch for the earlyyears group is the need for play in
kindergarten, which it says the common standards are hindering. Good
reading is dependent on oral-lan-
THE COMMON CORE
Developmental appropriateness at heart of dispute
There's disagreement about
whether the common-core
literacy standards expect
too much of kindergarten
students. A note in the
introduction for the K-5
reading foundational skills
states that kindergartners
increasing awareness and
competence" in areas
including the following:
Phonics and Word
Demonstrate basic knowledge
of one-to-one letter-sound
correspondences by producing
the primary sound or many of the
most frequent sounds for each
Associate the long and short
sounds with the common
spellings (graphemes) for the
five major vowels
Read common high-frequency
words by sight (e.g., the, of, to,
you, she, my, is, are, do, does)
Recognize and name all upperand lowercase letters of the
Read emergent-reader texts with
purpose and understanding
guage development, and "active, playbased experiences in the early years
foster strong oral language in children," the group wrote in its report.
Common-core proponents don't
disagree. In fact, the common core's
introduction to the English/language
arts standards says play "is welcome
as a valuable activity in its own right
and as a way to help students meet
the expectations in this document."
Kindergartners can and should use
play to reach the standards, said the
University of Michigan's Ms. Duke.
"The dichotomizing of play with academic development is a problem," she
said. "I don't think anyone is wanting
to get play out of the kindergarten
Ms. Carlsson-Paige and her colleagues also argue that learning to
read in kindergarten has not shown
long-term gains. Pupils who learn to
read in 1st grade go on to read just as
well as those who learned earlier, they
Student Achievement Partners'
brief responds that, while it's true
some students can delay learning to
read without consequence, "beginning
to develop literacy skills in kindergarten helps children, especially lowincome children, succeed with reading and avoid falling permanently
Ms. Duke said it's an issue of equity.
"The reality is if you take something
like knowing the alphabet, ... many
kids in this country-and disproportionately kids from higher socioeconomic backgrounds-come in [to kindergarten] knowing that already," she
said. "It's not OK that some kids who
happen to have gotten that knowledge outside of school have it and
some kids don't."
That's just misdirection, said Ms.
Carlsson-Paige. "The standards are
misleading people to think we're
going to increase equal educational
opportunity and overcome the impact
of poverty on learning [with standards]," she said, "and I think we need
to address those problems directly."
Scan this tag with your smartphone
for a link to the papers
discussed in the article.
The CURRICULUM MATTERS blog tracks
news and trends on this issue.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - June 10, 2015
Education Week - June 10, 2015
Cleveland Embraces Social- Emotional Learning
Challenge of Co-Teaching A Special Education Issue
As Federal Grants Taper Off, Two N.C. Districts Tally Impact
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: N.Y. ‘Open’ Content Going Nationwide
School Choice Supercharged In Nev. Statute
News in Brief
Debate Persists Around Kindergarten Reading Standards
New York Expanding Dual Language to Help Its English- Learners
Schools, Students Hit Hard by California’s Historic Drought
Blogs of the Week
Massachusetts School Transforms Renovation Into Teachable Moment
Magnet Schools Found to Boost Diversity—But Only a Bit
Survey: Students Need More Than Academic Prowess
Education Policy Issues In Arizona Crossfire
Congress Appears Poised to Tackle Higher Education Issues
SIG Money Gives Principal Tools For Turnaround
Federal Aid Fuels Multi-Tiered Instruction
Additional Entrants Join Presidential Race
High Court Rules in Online Threat, Religious Rights Cases
A Movement Gains Momentum
What Teachers Are Saying
Parents Have a Civil Right To Question Testing’s Goal
Parents See Testing’s ‘Distorting Impact’
What Are the Policy Implications of the Opt-Out Movement?
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
An Early Opt-Out
Education Week - June 10, 2015