Recently I have been very frustrated with the criticism of the Common Core State Standards. I am not frustrated because I can’t handle some good academic conversations or because I have decided that the CCSS are the be-all end-all. I am mostly frustrated because the arguments are not about the standards at all, they are about the tests. I get really antsy when people tell me that they have or would petition to have our state drop the standards because of issues with the testing. I just really am scared we are going to throw a quite intelligent, college and career ready baby out with the bath water. I have seen my own building and students already struggle with the tests, both in administration of it, and the content itself. I have also seen students throughout my entire district and my own second grader, blossom, grow, and really push their thinking because of the new standards. I just really believe in my heart that literacy is the foundation of the thinking we want the people we are populating our nation with to be doing. This post is not about the tests, it’s about literacy. I want to be able to have a conversation about the two things separately. The tests are not the standards. One can be flawed or need change or just some getting used to, without having to impact or invalidate the other.
I believe that literacy skills are the most important skills to focus on across schools and subjects no matter what standards we are using. Recently I read an article that articulated this same belief. The article was used in our literacy adoption committee meeting and was found by a TOSA in our district who has a very distinct knack for finding really great articles to focus our thinking as we move toward our goal of a district wide literacy curriculum. The article is titled, “Literacy Lessons Learned” and was written by Mel Riddile, EdD. It was published in the February edition of Principal Leadership.
The article began by explaining why literacy initiatives are the most important and the most challenging changes for us to be focusing on. Mr. Riddile points out that “If purposeful reading, writing, and discussion aren’t occurring regularly in every classroom, your school is already two years behind in implementing the new standards.” He points out that others have been moving forward quickly and with fidelity. When we use literacy as a focus for learning we are really setting kids up to be successful. We need students to become adults who can function in, and be a contributing part of, our society. Reading, writing, speaking, and higher order thinking skills are necessary for them to do so. Riddile states, “The reality is that an 18-year-old who doesn’t have the skill for college or career is effectively sentenced to a lifetime of marginal employment and second-class citizenship.” Ahhh! None of us wants that for our students or children and I know the statistics are out there to prove that that sentence is true. Literacy is just the most important thing for students to be able to do well in any subject and in their lives.
The article also pointed out that these initiatives are very hard to accomplish and he highlights ten lesson he has learned about the attempt. They are:
1. Literacy is a long-term, school wide change initiative and it will take three to five years. It is a long term change, and I would argue it would need constant evolution.
2. Literacy is more than a program it is about real quality instruction in every classroom, every day.
3. Literacy is a culture changer and has to be a collective belief system.
4. We must change our expectations about students success from a sliding scale from teacher to teacher and classroom to classroom to one based upon a growth mind-set and common language.
5. We must improve classroom instruction to provide support and turn all teachers into master teachers.
6. Capacity building, not inspecting should be the way to support teachers and to help them be better without overwhelming them.
7. Focus on the needs of all students and use regular monitoring to assess student progress.
8. A failure to implement with fidelity will kill your program. You will need to focus and to implement less initiatives to do them well.
9. Leaders grow leaders through instructional coaching. Identifying teacher leaders and early adopters as well can help to foster change and support many of the other lesson previously listed.
10. Nothing significant happens in a school without the personal involvement of the principal whether or not they are the expert they must support those who are, and learn and grown alongside everyone else.
I appreciated this article in that it set aside the testing and just focused on quality literacy instruction. I always appreciate when someone puts the lessons and roadblocks out for others to see instead of just writing about how amazing and easy things are. It takes a lot of effort, time, energy, and focus to do what is right and not what is easy. This article helped me to think about how much literacy is the right track and how it is not easy. It does take focus, fidelity, leadership, change, growth, collaboration and commitment to the long term, but it’s just what we need to do. Set the fight about the test aside, it just doesn’t matter when talking about quality literacy instruction and the future of our students. Their lives will be greatly impacted by the actual skills they have in their daily lives much more than the score they get on the Smarter Balanced Assessments. Let’s keep our intelligent, productive, and literate baby and do what we must with the bath water.