Thursday, September 14, 2017

You Can’t Make a Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear by Bianca Tanis

After much discussion about the whether or not the proposed Next Generation PreK-2 standards align with developmentally appropriate practice, the NYS Board of Regents adopted the Next Generation ELA and Math Learning Standards on Monday, September 11th.
There are some revisions that deserve applause. Sadly, they are few and far between. While the narrative and language of the Next Generation standards is more sophisticated and sprinkled with examples of best practice and common sense, they are essentially the Common Core rebranded. Again.
The most glaring issue is the State’s refusal to veer from the flawed Common Core Anchor Standards. Given what we now know of the Common Core–the lack of grade level practitioner input, the lack of a basis in research, and the lack of any pilots or studies–the commitment to these anchor standards reveals the State’s commitment to a failed reform agenda and a misguided adherence to the belief that “rigor” will ameliorate the impact of poverty, under-funded schools, and institutionalized racism.
For many months, parents and educators have been expressing concerns regarding the PreK-2 standards. These concerns were well-founded. The newly adopted prekindergarten standards require that 3 and 4 year-olds display “emergent reading behaviors with purpose and understanding.” The prekindergarten standards also require that preschoolers make “connections from read-alouds to writing.” I would imagine that nothing kills a 3 or 4 year old’s love of being read to more than being asked write a reading reflection.
Many young, vulnerable children are being set up for failure and will be considered “behind” on day one of kindergarten. These children are not lagging behind according to developmental norms. Rather, they have failed to live up to a standardized expectation that has nothing to do with their needs. Children are meant to move and explore, and sadly these standards ensure an increased focus on direct instruction and rug time.
Universal PreK programs will likely be obligated to adopt these standards, either by future regulation or by the need to meet expected outcomes. By creating a situation where only those who can afford private preschool programs will have a developmentally appropriate preschool experience, we are widening the opportunity gap and setting impoverished students up for failure and to be falsely identified as having “behavior issues.”
And while these standards go to great length to appear  “softer” and “gentler,” make no mistake about the end game. Despite research detailing the unintended negative consequences associated with technology use in young children, the standards assert that students in prekindergarten should also “begin to learn about how technology and digital tools for writing can increase learning and communication.” Many schools already administer computer-based testing to kindergartners. Now CBT in preschool is just around the corner.
There has also been a great deal of insistence that the revised standards will foster child-centered learning that respects the role of play in child development. I would assume that this is a reference to standards like PKW2:
(Student will) Use a combination of drawing, dictating, oral expression, and/or emergent writing to name a familiar topic and supply information in child-centered, authentic, play-based learning
I am reminded of the expression “saying it does not make it so.” When you impose an academic skill or demand on play, it is no longer play, it is instruction. Let’s call a spade a spade.
If one could actually gauge whether or not the new standards support play-based learning by counting how many times the word “play” appears, it is worth noting that “play” appears only one time in the kindergarten standards. But even if the word play were included in each and every standard, the sheer volume of standards (over 70 in kindergarten) greatly diminishes the ability of teachers to incorporate the physical movement, unstructured play and exploration that young children need. This is especially true when one considers the time needed to assess a student’s progress towards meeting these 70-plus standards.
In 2015, Governor Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force Final Report detailed concerns about inappropriate kindergarten reading expectations. So it is extremely disappointing to see that the adopted Next Generation Learning Kindergarten ELA standards continue to impose the expectation that kindergartners read emergent texts with accuracy. It is widely accepted that the typical development of literacy skills at this age varies widely yet once again, the revised standards fail to implement a learning progression or range.
In math, skills once considered the domain of kindergarten continue to be pushed down to prekindergarten and first grade skills continue to be pushed down to kindergarten, and so on. Five year-olds are still expected to demonstrate addition and subtraction fact fluency up to 5 which ensures that anxiety inducing, timed fact fluency drills will continue in kindergarten.
Despite the bleak picture painted above, there are a few positive changes. The  revised standards state that students should read a range of literary and informational texts including stories, drama, poetry, fiction, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, folk tales, tall tales, biographies, autobiographies, and other informational texts. This is an important shift that will hopefully bring balance back to classroom libraries.
Up until 3rd grade, the standards explicitly state that students should be given reading material at their independent and instructional level while being exposed to grade level, complex texts via read-alouds and scaffolded supports. This makes sense. However, the standards also state that students must, “Read grade level texts orally with accuracy, rate and expression,” rendering the first point moot.
After third grade, students are not given as much leeway. From 4th grade on, students are expected to read and comprehend texts at or above grade level. The new standards do nothing to address the arbitrarily increased Common Core reading benchmarks, ensuring that children will continue to be held to expectations years above grade level.
At every grade level the standards include the notation, “With the appropriate services and supports, children with disabilities can…be held to the same high standards and expectations as those without disabilities.”
This ignores the fact that there are many students with cognitive and/or learning challenges who may not be able to read “at or above grade level” and that by holding them to a standardized and flawed expectation, we may be impeding their social emotional learning.  While we can support, provide scaffolds, employ different learning modalities, nurture strengths and talents and help students find success and fulfillment, we cannot teach away a cognitive disability. We can however, cause irreparable damage to a child’s self-esteem.
Here’s the bottom line: the revised standards are a more palatable and well-heeled version of the Common Core, but they are the Common Core nonetheless.  Throughout the process, the concerns of classroom educators were ignored and silenced, either by those facilitating the process of these revisions or by the apathy of those charged with elevating the voices of educators.
As educators, we must continue to advocate for children – we know what our students need and we must continue to do what WE think is right.
Shut your doors and teach.

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