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The Common-Core Reading Standard That Should Have Been

In a recent interview, Sue Pimentel, a lead writer of the Common Core State Standards for English/language arts, told me she has at least one regret about how the standards turned out: They don't require students to read a large number of texts independently.

She explained that students "develop stamina, efficacy, and persistence" by reading a series of texts that engages them. They can also build their vocabularies by seeing words in context and learning about a subject. 

The standards do include "nods" to that goal, she said. For instance, the reading standards say students should read complex literary and informational texts "independently and proficiently." But according to Pimentel, it would be "better to have a standard that signals that students should regularly read a volume of texts at a range of complexities."

The standards writers nearly included it, she explained. "We debated about this, putting in an independent reading standard [that says] students read widely and at volume," said Pimentel. "We didn't put it in, in part because we didn't know quite how to word it, and we didn't want to be too prescriptive about it. ... But I wish we had."

Will States Add the Standard?

 South Carolina, which technically replaced the common core, did include it, Pimentel points out. The South Carolina standard says students will "read independently and comprehend a variety of texts for the purposes of reading for enjoyment, acquiring new learning and building stamina." That includes a subgoal of reading independently "for a sustained period of time."

Common-core adopters can also add standards—up to an additional 15 percent. And Pimentel says some have considered adding a goal about reading independently and at volume. "I applaud states adding that to their standards," Pimentel said.

When I asked Pimentel whether she thought that kind of standard would lead more teachers to do sustained, silent reading during class time, which studies have shown may not be effective for improving reading (though this is still controversial), she said the standard could make some reference to having students "show they've understood what they've read, and are not just flipping pages."

As I've written, some educators and researchers say students should read a series of books on a single topic to build their vocabulary, and ultimately their literary skills altogetherIn some classrooms, students are reading a set of four or five texts on one subject matter—snakes or the Great Depression or habitats—with the idea that seeing words repeatedly in context will help students attach deeper meaning to them. Student Achievement Partners, founded by some of the common-core writers, including Pimentel, is leading a professional-development program called the "text-set project," in which educators gather packages of readings and multimedia resources on different topics.

Pimentel said that kind of reading at volume—about a specific topic—is even more ideal. And when students are able to choose the topic and texts on their own, she said, that increases their motivation to read.

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