As a 6th grade teacher of ELA in the East Penn School District (Pennsylvania), I, like all of my colleagues, have been overwhelmed at the rigor set forth in the new PA common core standards. As I sift through the released items made available to me, I am curious about your take on the cognitive level of functioning it takes to decipher the new common core questions. Are we asking our students to think and process at a level they are not yet able to or will never be able to. Are we expecting our 6th graders to think like 9th graders when cognitively they are unable to? If so, are we expecting our 6th grade basketball players to perform like 9th grade basketball players when physically they are unable to? I am hoping you can shed some light on this subject.
Here's my response. What would you have said?
Douglas, thank you for your email. You certainly asked a great, and very complex question. I think it's important to differentiate between the standards themselves and the test questions that are now being released. I do think the standards are rigorous, yet achievable with appropriate support and scaffolding (which is critical). It's also going to take a few years to see the effectiveness of the standards, because right now, you're still getting students who haven't had the exposure to the higher levels of thinking in those earlier grades. That means, you're playing catch-up. It is important to recognize the complexity of what the standards are asking students to do--to analyze and infer rather than just summarize, to back up their ideas with evidence, rather than just stating their opinions, etc. (I am more familiar with the ELA/Literacy standards than the math ones.) What I see as a huge challenge is the difference/shift in the level of reading required, rather than some of the less complex text that we have been using. And that, again, requires more scaffolding from the teacher. In math, the more complex processing skills are certainly challenging--my son has been challenged! I do know there is some concern in the middle grades about pushing some of the algebraic concepts down to the lower levels, and whether that is too much for students. I don't have an answer to that since it's not my area of expertise, but I know it has been debated.
One tool you may find helpful is Webb's Depth of Knowledge. Most teachers use Bloom's Taxonomy to measure higher order thinking skills, but that can be a little limiting since it only looks at verbs. For example, create is at the higher level, but creating a get well card for another student isn't really rigorous. Webb focuses on complexity of tasks, and the Common Core incorporates his Depth of Knowledge. I'm attaching a guide I use with teachers--it provides questions to look at the four levels (the CC is typically at level two at a minimum and usually at level three--level four is more for extended projects). It may be helpful to you. Also, the reference at the top is his original documentation, including detailed documents for reading, writing, math, and science.
I can certainly understand frustration with the standards. Hopefully you are accessing resources other states have created that may be helpful (NYEngage comes to mind). I hope my information has been helpful. Best wishes as you and your colleagues continue to work to make a difference for students. Barbara