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Draft Content Frameworks Released for Common Standards

Many educators and analysts have noted that there is a lot of empty space between adopting the new common standards and testing students to gauge mastery of those standards. Now, we are starting to see efforts to fill that space (think curriculum materials, professional development).

Last night, a set of draft content frameworks landed. Billed as part of the "bridge" between standards and assessments, the frameworks were issued by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, one of the two big groups of states that have Race to the Top money to design common tests for the new standards in math and English/language arts. [UPDATE, Aug. 10: See our story online.]

The frameworks were developed by folks from the 24 states in the consortium, writers of the standards, and others in the field, but now PARCC hopes to solicit a broader range of feedback, so they're open for public comment until August 17. Final versions are slated for fall release. You can see the draft versions on PARCC's website.

So what are these things?

According to PARCC, the frameworks identify "the big ideas" in the standards at each grade level, and are intended to "help determine the focus" for PARCC tests. These are not papers you can curl up and carry in your back pocket, though; at 162 pages, the frameworks are longer than the standards themselves (if you don't count the standards' various appendices). They explain how the standards work, discuss how learning progresses from grade to grade, and outline ways to dig into the standards' most important areas. They also provide guidance on how to judge good instructional materials for the standards.

It's clear that the writers are keenly aware of the debate over the standards and tests becoming a de facto national curriculum; the frameworks emphasize that they are intended only as helpful guidance to teachers and curriculum designers (and, clearly, testmakers, given who's developing them). They make liberal use of words like "example" and "opportunity," and say on the first page that they are "not a curriculum."

How the field responds to the frameworks will say a good deal about people's political views of this work, and also about varying definitions of "alignment."

One source in the testing world told me he is a bit unnerved that folks designing the tests—in this case the assessment consortia—are creating curriculum frameworks. Sure, he acknowledged, some people might argue that it's just common sense to create a harmonious package of standards, frameworks, instructional materials and assessments. But he insisted that who does it, and the sequence in which they do it, are pivotal. Everything about curriculum should be done by curriculum people, not testing people, and it should come before the test, otherwise you risk having the tail (the test) wag the dog (frameworks and curriculum).

Stay tuned as we explore this interesting terrain.

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