Education Week - November 14, 2012 - Special Report - S22

three major publishing houses’ basal programs, comparing them where possible with volumes written before the final draft of the standards was published, in June 2010. They include Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Journeys, from 2011; Pearson’s Reading Street, from 2008 and 2013; and McGrawHill’s Treasures, from 2009 and 2011. (McGraw-Hill also offers a new basal series, Reading Wonders, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt a new edition of Journeys, but full volumes of those products were not available for review.)

textbooks to go forward with our endorsement, it will indicate they are rigorous in a way many ... probably are not.”
State schools chief, Louisiana


Great Expectations
As one of the few highly visible vetting processes for curricula, textbook adoption offers a window into the thorny topic of curricular alignment. Fewer than half the states have a formal textbook-adoption or -review process, but among them are states with a large K-12 population, such as Florida. And there are already signs that the common standards are beginning to change how reading curricula are vetted, with many states drawing on the “publishers’ criteria,” a document crafted by two of the lead writers of the standards. For its current English/language arts adoption, Florida built its evaluation framework on more than 100 pages of specifications drawn from the common standards and the publishers’ criteria. Among the state’s demands: Publishers must provide both a quantitative and a qualitative analysis of the complexity of each text selection in their basal series. Using Lexiles and other quantitative ways of measuring text complexity is already common, but analyzing them subjectively is another matter. That requirement demands attention to such features as whether a story is told in flashbacks rather than chronologically, or contains several levels of meaning, as in satire or parody. The criteria “reflect what we wanted to be able to work with teachers on,” said Stuart Greenberg, a former Florida department of education employee who helped design the evaluation tool. “Teachers had a lot of good pd on strategy work—main idea, compare and contrast—but one of the things they haven’t had as much training on is how to use the nuances of text structure to support understanding.” Such demands seem to have been taken seriously by publishers: Of the “big three” bidding on the lucrative Florida contract, all include text-complexity gauges in the series they submitted for review. A similar desire to help teachers truly embody the standards in their instruction—rather than engage in “the great binder-replacement phenomenon”—caused Tennessee officials to break their English/language arts adoption cycle into two distinct phases, according to Emily Barton, the

state’s assistant commissioner of curriculum and instruction. First, every basal series had to meet seven non-negotiable requirements, all related to the common core, including whether 80 percent of questions are “text dependent” and that at least 50 percent of selections are nonfiction. Only after meeting those requirements were the materials advanced to a second review, which digs into other criteria. The state’s two-tiered model has already forced some changes. For example, one publisher submitted a series that reviewers determined didn’t provide students with enough writing activities requiring them to delve into source texts, Ms. Barton said. Faced with being disqualified from the rest of the review process, the publisher created an addendum. “We saw publishers respond, when given information about places where their products were not meeting expectations,” she said.

Publishers’ Response
The major education publishing houses have, in general, distinguished between their bridge products, such as older series or editions they’ve supplemented, and brand-new editions that they crafted from scratch to embody the standards. Districts using Treasures, for example, were offered free supplements, including teacher guides and new reading selections where needed, according to Daniela Perelli, the vice president of editorial for elementary reading at McGraw-Hill School Education, based in New York City. They were also provided with an analysis showing units in their old manuals they could use to provide aligned instruction. “We did have that variety of text types already incorporated, and we spent a lot of time teaching about the genres in the piece, the organization of the piece, the particular aspects of writers’ craft that we’re asking kids to look at,” she said. “We felt the base was there, and

good instruction was already in Treasures, and that we were now identifying it with the right labels.” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt offers for purchase common-core “enhancement” packages for districts using its backlisted series, such as StoryTown and Reading. “A lot of the emphasis in the product is on writing and performance tasks,” said Melissa J. Counihan, the vice president of product management and strategy for K-12 literacy and social studies for the Boston-based company. “Argumentative writing didn’t really exist in the early-elementary grades; that’s one of the things we really had to change for the enhancements.” Such efforts to retrofit older curricula, as it were, appear partly influenced by the overall decrease in revenue caused by cash-strapped districts’ delays in purchasing new materials. McGraw-Hill officials, for instance, reported a 20 percent decline in its school division earnings in a second-quarter July conference call with investors. They attributed a “low-water mark” in K-12 publishing partly to the common core, and anticipated improvements in 2013. Even in the publishers’ new “from-the-ground-up” curricula— typically identified by the words “common core” appearing on the cover—as well as in the older curricula, there is a degree of repetition in the series. About half the reading selections are repeated between Reading Street’s 2008 and 2013 5th grade anthology, as are about two-thirds of readings in Treasures between 2009 and 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt officials said about half the selections in Journeys’ 5th grade anthology are identical between the 2011 and 2014 editions, too. But as evidenced earlier, there are differences, if sometimes subtle ones, in how exercises for students are framed. In a selection about a 19th century woman, the 2011 edition of Treasures, for instance, asks students to detail how an author’s “choice of words” relates to the purpose of her biographical narrative, a question not in the former version’s exercises for the same selection. The 2013 version of Reading Street has some arguably more difficult “writing across texts” prompts. A narrative about ghost towns is now accompanied by a short piece of historical fiction. Rather than making a poster, as in the previous edition, students must now write a journal entry in a character’s voice, drawing on details from the nonfiction text. Some of the most important changes, the publishers said, appear in the new teachers’ editions to help them implement the new techniques. For example, the brand new Reading Street teacher editions guide teachers through the reading of each featured text three times, said Nancy L. Winship, the vice president of product development for Pearson PreK12 literacy. The tool responds to the common core’s demands that

complex texts should be read multiple times as students master its new vocabulary, meaning, and craft. McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt officials say their newest basals, which weren’t available for review, offer similar features.

New Tests
The ultimate test of alignment, though, lies in the hands of state reviewers. Complicating those decisions is the fact that state adoption tends to be an all-or-nothing decision, leaving less room for shades of gray. Materials in Florida, for instance, are being evaluated on each criterion on a 1-to-4 scale, but they don’t have to clear a particular point threshold in order to win adoption, state officials said. In New Mexico’s adoption earlier this year, reviewers detailed perceived weaknesses in several of the K-3 basal volumes. Documents on the state’s website show that reviewers judged that Journeys 2011, even with supplements, “does not sufficiently provide opportunities for in-depth writing instruction” vis-á-vis the common core. And while the 2013 Reading Street’s reading comprehension instruction was praised, its research and inquiry prompts were deemed “limited in scope.” But both series were ultimately approved by the state. Tennessee, for the first time, will issue letter grades to English/ language arts materials, a move officials hope will give a better sense of reviewers’ perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses in each basal series’ alignment to the standards. Louisiana’s 2012-13 adoption process could serve as a test case of how far states are willing to press on the issue of alignment. Publishers’ bids, including one by each of the three major houses, were reviewed by committees against three newly developed evaluation tools drawn from the common core. But based on those reviews—which have not yet been made public—and his own perusal, state Superintendent John White said he is skeptical of the textbooks, and is considering whether to recommend any to the state board of education for adoption, in December. “I’m very concerned that the questions, the assessments, the text complexity, and other dimensions of the textbooks are not remotely ready to be called ‘aligned’ with the common core,” Mr. White said. “My strong belief is that if we make a mistake and allow textbooks to go forward with our endorsement, it will indicate they are rigorous in a way many, if not all of them, probably are not.”

Mr. Dewitz of Mary Baldwin College, for instance, contends that past the earliest grades, basal textbooks may no longer be an ideal way to teach to the depth envisioned in the standards. “If you read deeply into the common core, it’s the ability to trace and track the development of an idea or a character over time,” he said. “Essentially from 3rd grade up, they are talking about books.” Ms. Barton says more Tennessee districts have expressed interest in using complete texts in elementary English/language arts classes, rather than shorter, prepackaged curriculum units. “I do hear districts say, ‘We’re going to use these three short texts and these two long ones,’ and that they want to get the copyright licenses and go from there,” she said. “We don’t yet have the ‘iTunes’ version of curriculum, ... but common standards do change the economies of scale.” In one development, educators across the country are increasingly making use of free or open-source materials to craft lessons. And while the quality of those materials is widely variable, New York officials view their project as a way of signaling what a baseline standard of alignment quality should look like in the state. Unlike the proprietary basal series, the curriculum will be open-source—free for teachers, districts, and even states to use as they see fit, Ms. Gerson said. Though it’s difficult to say how the market will evolve as implementation continues, some see opportunities amid the chaos. “I have a sense from teachers that they are going to want greater control over decisions that heretofore have been oftentimes left to publishers or central offices,” Mr. White said. “That’s going to take hundreds of thousands of different forms; but I do think it implies a shift away from teachers who are willing to say, ‘OK, I will take this book of content, its order, its skills, its sequence, and its assessments on face value as simply what I need to teach.’ ” n
Coverage of the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the common assessments is supported in part by a grant from the GE Foundation, at foundation.

Beyond Adoption
The rush to update the basal readers has some observers asking deeper questions about the architecture of reading curricula.

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Education Week - November 14, 2012 - Special Report

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - November 14, 2012 - Special Report

Education Week - November 14, 2012
Voters Offer Mixed Signs
Stasis Persists In Washington
Focus on College Readiness
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Industry & Innovation
Experts Say Accountability Focus Stymies Assessment Research
‘Choice Bus’ Gets Students to Ponder Dropout Dangers
Digital Directions
Surveys Find Generation Gap on Contested Teacher Policies
Blogs of the Week
Disputes Derail Districts’ RTT Applications
Policy Brief
Laurence Peters: Teaching Climate Change in Sandy’s Wake
Traci Elizabeth Teasley: Holding School Boards Accountable ... for Learning
Nicole Yetter: Addressing Bullying
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Arthur L. Costa, Robert J. Garmston, & Diane P. Zimmerman: Cognitive Capital: An Investment in Teacher Quality
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