Education Week - November 9, 2016 - 13
A Small Nod for Digital Skills
The Common Core State Standards allow for teaching digital literacy,
but they don't make a big push for it
> By Liana Heitin
espite requiring some technology use,
the Common Core State Standards for
English/language arts don't do enough
to ensure that students become effective
digital readers, some literacy experts say.
"At the top level, they're saying, yes, we recognize
literacy means being digitally literate," said Bridget
Dalton, an associate professor of literacy studies at the
University of Colorado at Boulder. "But when you go to
specific standards in reading, there's not a lot there to
Because of the ambiguity in the reading standards,
which often give teachers the option to use "print or digital" texts, some say language arts educators are likely to
stick with more traditional print-based methods.
And there's concern that language arts teachers will remain print-focused for another reason as
well: Because the common-core-aligned tests, while
administered on a computer, set up an environment
that's more akin to print reading than it is to an authentic online experience.
Permission But Not a Requirement
Mentions of digital texts and tools appear throughout the common-core standards, but the document is
certainly more prescriptive in some places than others.
First published in 2009, the common core, which
nearly 40 states now use, is made up of anchor and
grade-specific standards. The anchor standards describe the broad skills students need by the end of
their education to be ready for college or careers, while
the grade-specific standards lay out what students
should know by the end of a certain grade.
In the reading section, one anchor standard in particular makes reference to digital literacy-but its interpretation, as experts point out, is in the eye of the
beholder. Standard 7 says students should be able to
"integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse
media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words."
According to Don Leu, an education professor
at the University of Connecticut with expertise in
technology and literacy, because the word "media"
is vague, teachers could fulfill that standard without
actually using technology at all. "Teachers will use
diverse media they're familiar with and have used
in the past, so they'll pull out magazines and newspapers," he said.
The standard gives teachers permission to teach
digital reading but doesn't do much more than that,
said Kristen Hawley Turner, an associate professor
of English education and contemporary literacies at
Fordham University. "When I look at that and I want to
teach digital reading, I can use that to defend myself,"
she said. "It allows for it, but nowhere does it call for
reading hyperlinked, multimodal texts."
But Susan Pimentel, one of the lead writers of the
standards, said the common core does support digitalliteracy skills. And while the standards are more explicit about it in the writing, speaking, and listening
sections, there are enough references in the reading
standards that teachers should not feel they can fulfill
them using only print texts.
"The intent of Anchor Standard 7, and perhaps there
were other ways to word it, was really to look at the
presentation of information in different formats, including digital formats," she said.
Looking at the grade-specific reading standards,
though, the elementary benchmarks are thin on references to digital literacy.
One 2nd grade standard says students should "use
information gained from the illustrations and words in
a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of
[the] characters, setting, or plot." Other than that, the
elementary standards refer to "texts" more generally.
"I think people could say in elementary school in the
reading standards, where it does mention digital texts
but there's an 'or,' it could just be visual-illustrations
or photos," Pimentel said. "We waited until middle
school to say it needs to come in yet another format."
It's true that the reading standards for middle and
high school are a bit more explicit about technology
use. A 7th grade informational-reading standard says
students should "compare and contrast a text to an
audio, video, or multimedia version of the text." And
an 8th grade standard says students should "analyze
various accounts of a subject told in different mediums
[sic] (e.g., a person's life story in both print and multimedia)." Again, there's some room for interpretation,
The Changing Face of Literacy / www.edweek.org/go/changing-literacy