If you are following the Common Core State Standards, you might have heard a little something about a set of "publishers' criteria" that was designed to guide the development of curricular and instructional materials. The criteria caused a bit of a stir when they first came out last summer.
Written by the two lead writers of the standards, the guidelines immediately drew fire for wandering into pedagogy, with advice on matters as specific as reading aloud to young students rather than using recordings, and as broad as radically cutting back the prereading activities that have become so widespread in literacy instruction.
The publishers' criteria are a flashpoint, of course, because of their potential influence, since publishers are indeed taking them to heart as they design—and redesign—their materials. Educators, too, are scrutinizing them in a bid to stay true to the standards, which now guide instruction in 45 states and the District of Columbia. What you think about all that would have a whole lot to do with whether you like the standards themselves, and the way the criteria interpret them. (See my story about how the criteria are helping drive a debate about the role of prereading.)
So it's worth noting that the publishers' criteria have been undergoing cycles of revision. The most recent version came out a couple weeks ago. You can find them on the website of Student Achievement Partners, the nonprofit run by the lead writers of the English and math standards. The criteria are a set of two documents, one covering grades K-2 and another covering grades 3-12.
I looked them over to see what might have changed and chatted by email with David Coleman, the CEO of Student Achievement Partners and co-lead writer of the standards and the publishers' criteria, about the changes.
Some specifics have disappeared. For instance, in the original version of the 3-12 criteria, the writers advised that "80 to 90 percent" of curriculum materials for literacy instruction across the subjects should require "text-dependent analysis" in order to accurately reflect the reading standards. In the newest version, those percentages have disappeared in favor of a general description of what text-dependent analysis means and how important it is that students build these skills to master the reading standards.
Other specifics remain unchanged in the new version. The grade 3-12 guidelines, for instance, are quite specific in the relative proportions of student-writing types they seek: 30 percent argumentative, 35 percent explanatory/informational, and 35 percent narrative in elementary school, with a stronger tilt toward argumentative writing and away from narrative writing as students get older: 40 percent each of argumentative and explanatory writing in high school, with 20 percent narrative writing.
Unsurprisingly, original key messages are intact. In some cases, they've even sharpened. The K-2 criteria, for instance, reiterate the first version's reference to the importance of having "a majority" of questions to students be based directly on the text they are reading. But the new version goes a step further, noting that materials (and by implication, teachers' questions) "should not over rely on "cookie-cutter questions that could be asked of any text, such as 'What is the main idea? Provide three supporting details.' "
All the revisions can't be captured here, but I wanted to note at least a few. I also chatted with Coleman about the changes, and wanted to share what he and his writing partner, Susan Pimentel, highlighted as changes in the most recent version. They:
• Removed sections of the criteria where they felt the document went "beyond the standards and intruded too much into instructional details."
• "More explicitly emphasized the important role teacher judgment plays in choosing materials."
• Made clearer that the standards require wide-ranging reading/research and reading of full novels, drama, and poems, as well as close reading of shorter texts.
• "Worked closely with the [English-language-learner] community to ensure that the work on scaffolding responded to the needs of all students to gain access to high-quality complex text.
• Made a point of stating that "high-quality questions are usually text specific as well as text-dependent; that is, that good questions are not typically generic for any text but address the specific text or texts being examined.
• "Noted the vibrant role of conversation between students in developing literacy," in recognition of the speaking and listening standards.
• Sought to "leave room for a wide range of instructional approaches, while setting some basic parameters based on the standards; for example, the standards require that scaffolds do not pre-empt or replace the need to read the text, but there are many ways open for teachers to engage students in reading."
• "More clearly articulated the central importance of the foundational skills in K-2 and the need for systematic attention to the foundations of reading."
• "Emphasized the central role of academic vocabulary—higher-level words that appear commonly in many different types of text—in reading, writing, listening, and speaking."
• Clarified sections that people found confusing or idiosyncratic.
So I challenge you to a side-by-side analysis. Read the original version (linked in our story about them, for which I gave you a link above) and the new one and decide for yourself: How have they changed, and do those changes represent improvements in your view?