PARCC’d on an Island

PARCCisland

How two teachers in Nantucket, Massachusetts tackled PARCC preparation

Guest post by: Marita Scarlett and Chip Davis

PARCCisland

It was a warm, sunny early fall day when we walked into the cafeteria for our staff meeting and PARCC practice test; Chip dreaming of surfing and me requesting access to my accommodations. How would I ever be able to focus on a standardized test in a hot, sunny room full of educators clicking away? All the noise buffering, bedazzled headphones in the world would not be enough to make this work for me. But we persevered, we labored through the PARCC practice tests. And then, we looked at each other, and our colleagues and wondered: how are our 8th graders EVER going to be able to take this test?

Chip, being the classic type A English teacher must have gone home and started researching immediately. I imagine him toiling away at his computer with a sticky note covered copy of Night in his back pocket, and the Common Core State Standards highlighted and marked up on his desk. What tools were out there? What were other teachers doing? How do I prepare my students without sacrificing my curriculum and teaching to the test? How on earth are my students going to be ready to take this test?

My fears were of a different variety. I have spent the last year teaching my students how to mark up the text, break down the words, restate the questions, use a graphic organizer. I have been teaching language based strategies for a paper based world, and now my students will be given a Chromebook, two pieces of blank paper and a pair of headphones and asked to prove what they can do. How do I scaffold them and give them the tools they need to show what they know? How do I keep their self-esteem in tact? How do I raise the bar and hold them accountable while giving them the support and the tools they need when I don’t even know what to offer?

Well, Chip came across Edcite and we got right to it. When Chip brought me the information, I coordinated with our Language Based Learning Disability Consultant for the three of us to get together. Chip had a plan (he always does) and I was ready to come along for the ride. We brainstormed about what the students would need to be successful, what their IEP’s allowed for, and compared these to the PARCC accommodations. Chip planned to create an assessment using multiple texts, based on the Holocaust unit we were wrapping up. Students would have excerpts from the class novel Night by Elie Wiesel and the Literature Circle novel that they were assigned based on interest and lexile levels. The test would mimic Part 1 of Performance Based Assessment in format and rigor. There would be questions with Part A and Part B as well as a constructed response. We decided that I would create a packet of checklists and graphic organizers for the students who required them and modify the grading, not the test itself since it was already differentiated with the multiple novels. We would allow students with the IEP accommodation of extra time the same extension they would get on the PARCC. But what about the students whose reading disability would keep them from accessing the texts?

I reached out to Edcite via email and much to my surprise I got a quick response from Amar asking if I could make time to phone conference with him and his team of educators. We connected with Talia at that time and she was able to guide me to resources through Google Chrome that would digitize the text so students could listen to the excerpts as they would be able to on the PARCC. The Edcite team was so helpful and responsive to us throughout the process.  When we asked if there was going to be a way to toggle between texts, the function appeared a few days later!

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 4.46.08 PM

Was it perfect and seamless? No, of course not! Formatting was difficult, especially for the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman; there were glitches with starting and stopping the test, and the scores were not what we had hoped for but all of our students stuck with it. We have plans to administer another Edcite exam, this one aligned with the reading of The Giver by Lois Lowry and the 3rd part of the 8th Grade Performance Based Assessment. Students will be asked to create a new ending to the novel, an extended narrative like the PARCC asks.

If you are looking for the assessments search “Night” and you will find 8 versions of the assessment. Keep an eye out for the upcoming The Giver assessment too! If you are interested in the checklists and graphic organizers I provided to students, feel free to email me at scarlettm@nps.k12.ma.usIMG_2134

Cheers and happy PARCC-type assessing!

———————————————–

Marita Scarlett (special educator) and Chip Davis (English teacher) co-teach 8th grade ELA at Cyrus Peirce Middle School in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Here are some of their outstanding PARCC-aligned assignments, where students compare the two texts mentioned in the title: (1) Night — Maus I and II (2) Night — Number the Stars (3) Night — Anne Frank.

Exemplar Assignments from 2014

shutterstock_137782469

As 2014 draws to a close, we wanted to highlight the most outstanding and popular assignments from this past year. Please share these outstanding resources with your friends, your students, and your personal learning network (PLN)!

English Language Arts:

Grade Assignment Name Short URL
K Long Vowel or Short Vowel? edcite.com/1ddmyj
1 Penguin Babies edcite.com/1aj6af
2 Baby Bao Bao edcite.com/19b2x9
3 Grade 3 Fable: the Lion and the Mouse edcite.com/1obbao
4 Grade 4 Fable: The Story That Has No End edcite.com/1quqqq
5 The Black Pearl
6 Short Story Practice edcite.com/10ljly
7 Freedom Riders
8 Patrick Henry edcite.com/1gbwz7
9 9th Grade Writing Practice edcite.com/1lxbcq
10 Frederick Douglass
11 The Crucible
12 Nonfiction Reading Comprehension – John Wilkes Booth edcite.com/14jkhr

Math:

Grade

Assignment Name

Short URL

K Sorting and Counting — Kindergarten — Measurement and Data edcite.com/10zie2
1 Pre-assessment, all standards edcite.com/1sdxwy
2 Number Sentences edcite.com/1sp540
3 Rounding Numbers to 100s and 10s edcite.com/1vx7k9
4 Factoring and Multiples edcite.com/1k33sm
5 Rounding Decimals edcite.com/1odtz2
6 6.RP.A.3a Ratios and Proportions edcite.com/1eefu3
7 7th Grade Ratios Homework edcite.com/1lat57
8 Opportunity Gap Performance Task edcite.com/1jx4gr
Geometry Point, Line, Arc Definitions edcite.com/1q59v9
Algebra I Working With Slope edcite.com/1bys8i
Algebra II Adding, Subtracting, and Multiplying Polynomials
Statistics High School Data Modeling edcite.com/1hx3b5
Pre-Calculus Complex Numbers Review edcite.com/1uok1k
Gaeilge Math! Ag Sórtáil edcite.com/18ey9v

 History:

Grade

Assignment Name

Short URL

Middle School Woman’s Suffrage
High School Gains of the Great Depression edcite.com/1nrhb7
High School Dissecting a momentous speech in US History edcite.com/1xuc41

Science:

Grade

Assignment Name

Short URL

Middle School Biotic and Abiotic Factors edcite.com/1n5re4
Middle School The Coriolis Effect edcite.com/16jns6
Middle School Nutrition in Animals edcite.com/1lkkl1
Biology Mitosis Review
Chemistry Ionization Energy edcite.com/1l2d5v
Physics Electricity Review Assignment

 

sPARCC some PARCC Excitement!

PARCC

Special thanks to Alison Mendralski (OH), Matt Zimmer (IL), Gabrielle Smith (OH), Jason Haap (OH), and Marita Scarlett (MA), Chip Davis (MA), and Sheri McAninch (OH) for reaching out to us about these PARCC question types and sharing your wonderful feedback with us!

Have you taken one of the PARCC practice tests yet? When you first go through the assessment, one thing you will quickly notice is that students will need a certain familiarity, even proficiency, with the technology used. In addition to a basic proficiency with technology, students will need to know how to navigate and use PARCC item types.
Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 6.01.51 PM

With Edcite, your students can gain this technological familiarity and, in fact, practice with the PARCC-specific question types themselves! Because of our growing PARCC community (thank you to our Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, and Massachusetts teachers especially!), we have added 8 new PARCC question types to Edcite! Combine these question types with the creativity of your curriculum, and you can equip your students with rigorous, high-quality practice assignments!

Here are some of the things we are most excited about our PARCC questions!

1. Annotation Tools: Students can now annotate the text through the use of a highlighter, and can eliminate answer responses with a strikethrough tool! These accommodations are also present on the PARCC exam and will make it easier for students to make their thinking visible.

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 6.16.01 PM

2. Multiple Passages: students can toggle from one passage to another within the same screen. This is great for compare and contrast questions! You can also have students switch from a passage to a video or audio file, especially since multimedia is of utmost importance with the PARCC exams.

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 6.15.52 PM3. Extended Select Text: with this question type, students can select multiple responses within a table. This is a neat way to create graphic organizers as well!

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 6.17.05 PM4. New Math Questions: We have 5 new math question types: fractions question, histogram question, number respond, PARCC multiple choice and pictograph question. These item types are great for asking students to answer questions in new, creative ways. And, on Edcite, even these rigorous questions can be auto-graded!).

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 6.24.42 PM

5. New PARCC-aligned assignments! We already have some excellent assignments created by teachers in PARCC states. Check out these resources and make sure to share them with your colleagues!

Multiplication Quiz (Grade 3)
Function Practice (Grade 8)
Grade 11 Crucible Assignment
Middle School ELA

We hope you enjoy exploring these new PARCC question types, and we can’t wait to see the content you create with it! As always, if you have feedback for us on these tools or on any part of Edcite, please let us know!

Standards, Or No Standards? That Is The Question.

shutterstock_62408026

Education standards have played a role in education reform measures since the 1990s. In the last few years, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been a buzz word amongst educators, politicians, and even comedians like Louis CK.

When I was a teacher, I constantly utilized the standards — first the California State Standards and then the Common Core standards — to design and pace my curriculum. The standards gave me a baseline set of objectives to reach on a daily, weekly, and annual basis. But, after starting my Masters in Education this year, I began to read about the backlash on standards, and I began to question what I thought was a fundamental aspect of my pedagogy. To expand my thinking, I engaged with friends and colleagues whom I deeply respect. Today, I bring their thoughts to you, in the hopes that your thinking can be pushed and challenged as well.

Ryan McCormack:

Me: To what extent should teachers think about standards in their pedagogy?
Ryan McCormack: “I think it depends on the standards. To say they’re automatically harmful or beneficial can be irresponsible. If we are to have standards, they need to provide teachers with the freedom to enact the choices that are best for their group of students in their development. Standards that are too specific often hurt the students who need the most help.”

Me: What do you think of this quote: the standards movement “is the latest means of exclusion, whose success depends on placing the onus for failure to achieve academic credentials on the individual rather than the system” (Aronowitz 2004)?
Ryan McCormack: “I would agree with that statement for the most part. Standards are around to ensure teacher accountability. Whatever standards are changed to, now or in the future, are intended to be fixes to improve the system. However, until you start at the beginning with teacher education (both in credentialing and continued development at the school site), teacher selectivity, and the elevation of the profession to a respected place to attract the best teachers, it’s hard for the standards to have a whole lot of impact. More education, training, and recruitment on the front end would lead to new implementations to be far more effective.”


ryan

Ryan McCormack earned his undergraduate degree in International Relations from University of San Diego (USD). Ryan went on to obtain a Masters degree in Secondary Education from the University of Southern California (USC). After his masters program, Ryan joined the Teach For America 2012 corps. Ryan currently teachers Pre-AP World History and coaches the soccer team at KIPP San Jose Collegiate. He intends to one day pursue a school leadership position.

 


Ben Spielberg:

Me: Do you, in theory, agree with the idea of standards?
Ben Spielberg: “There is a large difference between the way standards are currently written and implemented and the concept of standards in general. Broadly defined, ‘standards’ to me means things every student should learn. And I think that’s something we should have. Students have to learn certain things to be successful in society and to develop the type of character that people should have. This is very important as a concept.”

Me: What do you think about the Common Core State Standards?
Ben Spielberg: “I think, in theory, something like the Common Core is compelling. The idea of focusing on skill learning rather than content learning is a good thing. The transition to Common Core has helped teachers think through questions like: ‘how can we help students think more critically about math?’ But Common Core, at least in secondary math, has also failed to deliver on one of its most important promises. The standards were supposed to help teachers delve deeply into the most important mathematical ideas, but rather than narrowing the list of topics covered, Common Core mostly moved standards around. If we really wanted to help students build conceptual understanding, we’d drastically reduce the number of standards to enable truly in-depth instruction on the most essential concepts.”



TFA Headshot (High Quality)

Ben Spielberg (@benspielberg): After graduating with a degree in Mathematical and Computational Sciences from Stanford, Ben joined Teach For America as a middle school math and science teacher. Following his third year of teaching, Ben served as a math instructional coach in the San Jose Unified School District. Ben currently works in Washington D.C. for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. More of Ben’s opinions can be found at his personal blog, 34justice.


Esther Fensel

Me: In the 2012-2013 school year, you were already developing a curriculum that aligned to the Common Core Standards? What was your experience with this standards-based teaching? 

Esther Fensel: I believe that the CCSS — especially for math, given my own experiences — are a necessary opportunity to establish a floor of rigor for math education.  As the current state of secondary math education shows, absent a rigorous, cohesive set of math standards (that focus on depth vs. breadth, concepts, and reasoning), schools & systems can — and do — operate from low expectations.  Low expectations are aggravated in schools and systems that teach low-income students of color.  With a rigorous set of common standards, we can have the dialogue we desperately need: about implementation of rigorous math instruction (and professional development that actually supports teachers to do this), how to be rigorous and culturally responsive, and holding high expectations for what all students are capable of producing in math.

Me: Did you think this standards-based learning was helpful or harmful for students?
Esther Fensel: What I saw from my own students when I was supported in teaching towards the CCSS (compared to previous years, where I based my instruction on the CA state standards) was that they were able to explain the math concepts behind their chosen strategies; we had discussions about these concepts; and, simply, math was much more fun.



188797_976273278395_2005063_n

Esther Fensel attended the University of Southern California (USC), where she earned a degree in psychology. After college, Esther taught 7th grade math and science at Joseph George Middle School in East San Jose and then at Gateway Middle School in San Francisco. Last year, Esther joined Teach For America staff to help support first and second year corps members in their classrooms. Now she works more closely with secondary math teachers throughout the Bay Area.

 


Ivy Martinez

Me: How do the Common Core State Standards impact students of color?
Ivy Martinez: I think Common Core standards can be a path to equity for kids, especially for low-income, children of color, especially given how rigorous and high-level the standards are. In an ideal world, they should be a slap in the face to any low-performing school that serves those children. The standards also give a clear picture of what kids need to be achieving regardless of the state they live in, thus increasing urgency and raising the bar. Where I think it gets tricky is when teachers feel like they are achieving equity for their students by following the standards period.

Me: How can we make these conversations about the Common Core Standards, which have become increasingly political and alienating, more productive?
Ivy Martinez: I would prioritize that we shift focus from the standards themselves to implementation of the standards. The nature of a word like “standard” can connote a “one size fits all,” which feels really dangerous because all kids are different and need different things. Teachers should take the spirit of the standards, maintain the high bar, and ask “how would my kids best access these? How can I teach these in a culturally competent way (affirming my students home knowledge and empowering them in their identity)? How do I use the standards themselves to teach kids about equity and access and to question equity and access?”


ivymartinez1Ivy Martinez graduated from Brown University with a degree in Public Health and Anthropology. Ivy was a member of the 2010 Teach For America corps and taught 4th and 5th grade at Galarza Elementary School in San Jose. In her second year, Ivy won the prestigious Sue Lehman Excellence in Teaching Award. Ivy now works as the Director of Admissions & Diversity for the Teach For America.


 

 

Science and the Common Core

shutterstock_170816660

 

With the arrival of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), English and Math teachers have been busy at work. Still, science teachers, who are impacted by both the Common Core standards and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), are in a unique position as well. Thankfully, with a greater understanding of the Common Core science section, science teachers can prepare their students for both CCSS and NGSS simultaneously, and still infuse their classrooms with the rigorous, thought-provoking content that makes science classrooms so unique.

How does science play into the Common Core?

Science (and history, actually) technically falls under the ELA portion of the Common Core standards. Science-specific standards begin in the 6th grade. The science standards can be distinguished by the letters “RST”, which stand for “reading standards in science and technical subjects”. As the acronym implies, these standards focus mainly on literacy. Among other things, the standards assert that students should read age-appropriate science-level texts, understand domain-specific terminology, and distinguish between “fact” and “speculation” in science articles.

Now what?

Though your science classroom is likely infused with literacy already, implementing the 10 RST standards may still seem daunting. The 3-step method described below is one I used myself as the science department chair at KIPP San Jose Collegiate. This procedure will help you pinpoint department-wide areas of growth and give you discrete steps to address those needs.

Step 1: Determine Your Areas of Strength/Growth

To devise a meaningful implementation plan, the other science teachers and I first identified which standards our pedagogy addressed well and which standards were lacking from our classrooms. We structured our discussion by using a “Needs Analysis Worksheet”. I modified this worksheet for the rest of my department by writing in the science-specific standards, and then asked teachers to rank their efficacy of teaching those standards.

After reflecting individually, our team compared our rankings. Together, we listed 2-3 department strengths and 2-3 areas of growth. For example, my department recognized that we all teach standard RST.4, which asks students to “determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words…” We knew, for example, that students in all grades were familiar with the words hypothesis and pH, or that we regularly reviewed science vocabulary in our classrooms. On the other hand, our team acknowledged that we struggle with standard RST.6, which asks students to “analyze the author’s purpose in providing an explanation…” Though we often had students read science texts, such as published journal articles or news articles, we rarely asked students to ascertain the author’s reasoning, bias, or opinion.

Step 2: Standards Brainstorm Session:

Now that we had established which standards we hoped to focus on more as a department, my team and I began to brainstorm the “how”. This was the most helpful part of our strategy session by far. We went through our “Needs Worksheet” standard by standard and shouted out teaching methods that could be used. We weren’t thinking about the question in the frame of our own classrooms and we didn’t dive into our individual content areas; instead, we brainstormed general ideas for incorporating these standards in science. After generating a long list of science literacy strategies, we discussed ways we could implement these in our individual classrooms. Here are some of our ideas:shutterstock_176221823

  • Have students read a science news article as their “Do Now”. This will not only help students build their reading skills, but will also expose them to the modern applications of the science they are learning. You can scaffold this activity for English Language Learners (ELLs) by printing out different articles for your class that span different reading levels, and intentionally (but subtly!) handing different articles to different students. You can review the content in each of the articles, so students think you merely want to discuss different topics and don’t realize there is a greater reason behind which article they were given.
  • Offer students more opportunities to identify bias in written texts and science videos. Tell them they can disagree with an author! I did this in my class with this vaccines assignment, which helped push students to think critically about the sources they were reading and watching.
  • Read a book with your students! Our chemistry classes read “The Disappearing Spoon”, physics classes read “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”, biology classes read ““The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and environmental classes read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”
  • When students are peer editing each other’s lab reports, ask them to highlight their peer’s hypothesis, thesis and concluding statements in different colors. This will not only help the original author distinguish if these were clear in their lab write-up, but it will help the revisor practice identifying these components in a text.

Step 3: Plan, Plan, Plan!

After these sessions, I typed a “Needs Analysis Summary” and our brainstorming ideas and sent them out to the team. I also brought physical copies to each of our planning sessions thereafter, since they served as great guides when revising our long-term plans over the summer or while creating new unit plans. Plus, continuing to discuss these topics as a department helped foster even more collaboration and facilitated our vertical planning, ensuring that the necessary Common Core skills are reinforced in each science course.

 

Though science teachers don’t need to prepare their students for a Common Core science exam, they can still use their classrooms as a way to reinforce key literacy strategies that will help students succeed on their other exams and in life. Discussing these standards as a department helped me realize that I was not alone; I could tackle this change with my colleagues, and with a greater community of science teachers who, like myself, want to do what’s best for their students. If you have any additional ideas around the Common Core and science, please include them in the comments below!

The Shift from Persuasion to Argument

shutterstock_186346175

As a new school year begins, teachers are busy prepping lessons and assessments using the Common Core State Standards. At many schools, teachers are sitting down together and comparing the old standards with the new ones, paying attention to the shifts in learning. One shift that is often highlighted is the move from persuasive to argumentative writing. This affects not only English Language Arts classrooms, but also History and Science classrooms, since students are expected to write about the informational texts that they read.

So, just what is the difference between persuasion and argument?

First let’s take a look at the anchor standard in writing:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

shutterstock_147904637The key words that really set argument apart from persuasion are reasoning and evidence. Argumentative writing is based on logical reasoning which will convince an audience. Arguments are objective and use facts only – rather than opinion. For example, question 2 in this “O Captain! My Captain!” assignment asks students to use textual evidence to support their reasoning. In this “The Highwayman” assignment, question 4 asks students to write a response which includes evidence to support their claim.

Argument also analyzes opposing viewpoints. Aristotle once said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” For instance, an argumentative essay may bring up several counterclaims, respecting that they are valid, but ultimately providing evidence which proves that the writer’s argument is stronger. For example, question 3 in this Susan B. Anthony assignment assesses whether or not students understand counterarguments.

The next question then is – how is this different than persuasive writing?shutterstock_77780575

While persuasive writing does use logic and facts, it also relies on pathos. Pathos is a tactic used to appeal to an audience’s emotions. Persuasive writing is more subjective and often based on the personal convictions of the writer. The writer may use storytelling, personal experience, or passionate calls to action to appeal to an audience’s emotions. For example, this Patrick Henry speech relies heavily on emotional calls to action.

Persuasion may not address any opposing viewpoints, and if they are addressed, they are strongly dismissed without being fairly validated. 

Pro and Con StatueArgument-Aligned

In the end, both types of writers want to convince the audience. A persuasive writer’s audience is convinced through strong emotional appeals. The writer of an argumentative essay, though, keeps a fair and balanced tone, providing strong reasons and research to convince the reader.

For example, how would you scaffold this writing prompt for History so that student writing is aligned with argument rather than persuasion: Which ancient civilization most influenced how our own government was shaped? How about this science-based writing prompt: Is testing on animals a solution or problem?

As curriculum continues the shift into Common Core, it is important for teachers to collaborate and create strategies to help developing writers in all classes support their ideas with text-based evidence. A great way to collaborate is to upload assignments for argument-aligned writing on Edcite! Or you can customize assignments that have already been uploaded and tagged to Writing Standard 1 (ex: W.8.1 or W.7.1)!


profileNicole Bixler has been teaching middle school in Los Angeles for nine years. She has taught English, Theater Production, and Creative Writing. This year she is teaching Humanities — a combination of English and History — for the first time. Nicole uses technology often in her classroom. She specifically loves Edcite “because it was a quick way for me to assess their knowledge of specific standards, and they also became comfortable with Smarter-Balanced style questions. They felt very confident when it came time for the end-of-the-year test.”

Celebrating Cultural Differences With the Common Core

shutterstock_137806400As a former educator, I’ve read the continuous back-and-forth debates about Common Core’s effect on students across the country. Yet as a Latina and a former teacher of predominantly Black, Latino, and Asian students, it’s disappointing to find that many of these discussions seem to leave out a critical question: how can we use these national standards to create culturally responsive curriculum for students of color?

A recent article in The Atlantic reported that by the start of this upcoming school year, Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American students will make up more than 50% of students in our public education system, making white students no longer the majority. The National Center for Education Statistics also predicted that in just three years “Latino students alone will make up nearly 28 percent of the nation’s student population.”

And these number do not only derive from states like Texas and California — states known for their diversity for years. Formerly homogenous states have also gained more diverse student bodies. For example, in Idaho last year, of the nearly 300,000 K-12 students, more than 22% were Latino and eight Idaho school districts are already majority “minority”. A 2010 Penn State Policy brief noted that though two-thirds of cities, suburbs, and small towns across the U.S. had white populations of 90% or more in the eighties, today only one third of cities and towns still have that demographic.

We will achieve little in discussions about national standards and Common Core testing if we do not acknowledge these numbers and what they mean: our students come from very different racial and cultural backgrounds than they ever have before and these differences will largely influence how they learn in a standard American classroom. As we significantly alter curriculum through the Common Core this year, it is crucial that administrators, reformers, and teachers think about how curriculum choices will engage students of these backgrounds, and motivate them to succeed in a system that was historically built with a different demographic in mind.

In the past, as a country, we have significantly lacked culturally inclusive curriculum, and often even failed at acknowledging the existence and history of diverse racial populations in the subjects we teach. According to a grading system by the Southern Poverty Law Center, fourteen states earned failing grades for their civil rights curriculum and requirements. Five states- Alaska, Iowa, Maine, Oregon and Wyoming- do not require or support teaching about the civil rights movement at all.

Even those districts and schools that have attempted culturally inclusive education often execute it poorly. Curriculum often only focuses on the negative history of people of color (slavery, unfair labor policies for farm laborers and railroad workers, etc.) instead of also emphasizing the positive contributions people of color have made towards American society (art and literary movements like the Harlem Renaissance, contributions to the American military, etc). If not, schools often limit their celebration of diversity to “multi-cultural days” or once-a-year history month celebrations of cultural heroes instead of consistently integrating multicultural perspectives in every aspect of their educational model.

shutterstock_176263055Exploring course options in AP curriculums or universities around the country also reinforce this lack in multicultural curriculum. The Advanced Placement program includes classes on European, American, and World history, and yet no courses on the history of Africa, Latin America or Asia. A recent blog post by Kendra James on a prominent race issues blog argued that in many college literature or film studies programs (mine included), students aren’t required to take classes that focus on non-white or European writers and narratives and often have to go outside the department (as I did) to find these courses in the first place.

Fortunately, once educators acknowledge the critical need for culturally inclusive curriculum, they can easily use Common Core to work towards these goals. Several aspects of the Common Core standards allow teachers to easily integrate multicultural education, if they chose to. First, according to the Common Core website, the standards “intentionally do not include a required reading list” and “appropriately defer the majority of decisions about what and how to teach to states, districts, schools, and teachers.” This gives teachers the power to stray away from conventionally Eurocentric (not to mention: male-centric, Christian-centric, and heterosexual-centric) reading lists, and instead branch off into texts from authors of a wide range of backgrounds.

Secondly, the Common Core stresses that students support arguments with direct textual evidence, which makes it easier for students to approach questions equally. Before, English standards often placed too much emphasis on “making connections” and defending arguments with previous knowledge, experiences, or opinions, not realizing that students of disadvantaged backgrounds often have limited experiences that can connect with the kinds of texts presented. Under Common Core, even students with the financial or cultural privileges of having relevant outside experience can no longer use that knowledge to gain an advantage or an upper hand on testing. Instead, students will all approach a text on an equal playing field, having only the text to use to support their points.

The Common Core ELA’s emphasis on nonfiction and informational texts also creates the potential for including more social justice content that can appeal to students from diverse backgrounds. The Common Core believes that by elementary school, students should be reading a mix of 50 percent literature and 50 percent informational texts, and by high school, students’ reading will shift to be 30 percent literary and 70 percent informational.” No longer limited to classic literature- which historically has often portrayed a limited perspective- teachers can now use speeches, newspaper articles and essays to connect themes to local or global social issues. Through these texts, teachers can also focus on important issues of perspective and objectivity, asking students to critically think about who wrote the texts used, and whose voice is being heard, and whose isn’t.

It’s ineffective to discuss how Common Core Standards will change public education without also addressing how these standards will relate to the cultural backgrounds of public school students. Regardless of all the positive change Common Core has the potential to create, national standards won’t work if not also paired with a culturally relevant curriculum. The Common Core’s structure allows for this kind of curriculum to exist, if teachers are willing to take advantage of it. In no other point in America’s history has it been more necessary to try.

OTHER RESOURCES:

http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/resources/ct_characteristics.html

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/how-choose-best-multicultural-books

http://www.tolerance.org/classroom-resources


amandamachadoAmanda Machado (@amandaemachado0) is an education writer and consultant based out of the Bay Area. Amanda earned her undergraduate degree in Creative Writing from Brown University. After university, Amanda joined Teach for America and taught 9th grade English at a KIPP high school. Now Amanda is a contributing writer for The Atlantic and is involved with global education initiatives like the South African EdTech Summit and the Global Glimpse program. Amanda has also shared some of her rigorous English content on the Edcite online platform.