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Publishers Confront Challenges of Crafting Common-Core Materials

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Washington

A pair of experts who are helping educators implement the Common Core State Standards gave education publishers an brief tutorial on those multistate academic guidelines this week. In turn, they were given an update from industry representatives on what they're hearing from customers in K-12 systems that are buying their products.

The briefing was given by Rachel Etienne and David Liben, both of Student Achievement Partners, a nonprofit that is trying to help policymakers and educators make use of the standards. They gave attendees at the "Content in Context" education publishers' conference here a sampling of the standards' content in English/language arts and an overview of how they will change instruction—and by extension, the materials used in classrooms.

Both Etienne and Liben focused on the overall shift in academic expectations called for through the standards, such as the focus on students reading texts closely to analyze and interpret them, with a special eye toward increasing text complexity over time.

That's a break from a tendency in some language-arts instruction today, which focuses more on asking students to make a "personal connection to the text," Liben said. The new focus says that teachers should be staging those discussions only after a deep, thorough analysis of the material, he said.

Why is that in-depth analysis important? Proficient readers "get more out of the text" than struggling readers, Liben noted, and the ability to understand increasingly sophisticated reading materials is a predictor of academic success, including success in college.

During a running Q-and-A throughout the discussion, industry officials in attendance offered a number of observations about the challenges they're facing in creating products aligned to the common core:

• While the standards call for "close reading" and deep analysis of text, teachers and other school officials sometimes tell publishers they don't have time to bore into topics in that way, one attendee said. Publishers hear, "If you don't provide a dumbed-down text, we're going elsewhere" to buy materials, the audience member said.

Etienne and Liben said the structure and focus of the standards could help publishers overcome that problem. The standards' emphasis on covering fewer topics in more depth should save teachers time, while also encouraging more sophisticated analyses of what students read, they said.

• The common standards' focus on fewer-topics-in-more-depth can have a paradoxical effect on the industry, another audience member said: When there are so few standards, compared to the laundry list of standards used previously by states, it makes it difficult for publishers to make convincing arguments to districts that their products are covering the standards well.

Publishers can make an effective case to schools if they're creating materials that address and support overall skills—such as the ability to support reading of complex texts&dmash;and emphasize that, the Student Achievement officials said. It's a more holistic approach to creating and marketing products.

• And while the majority of states have agreed to implement the common core, some states, have kept what amounts to a shadow set of separate academic materials in place that they also hope will continue to influence instruction, one attendee said. States say they've got a "set of standards they can't let go," the questioner said. How can publishers know where to invest their time and resources?

One answer is to create materials written to high standards, they presenters responded. They believe those standards are the common core, which should suffice to meet states' other needs, too.

Keep an eye out for how publishers adjust to the common core, and attempt to meet schools' shifting demands.

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