Thursday, June 19, 2014

Another CCSS Writer Awakens

Psychology Today ran a great interview in January, talking to Dr. Louisa Moats, a psychologist, teacher, and researcher who was a contributing writer for the Common Core Standards, that is now making the rounds. The interview is worth reading in its entirety, but let me entice you with some highlights. And let me start by noting that David Coleman recruited Dr. Moats to work on the project, so this is someone that Coleman thought was knowledgeable enough to be a CCSS consultant.

Dr. Moats worked primarily on the K-5 ELA standards. Dr. Moats went into the project with a fair amount of optimism and good intentions.

I saw the confusing inconsistencies among states’ standards, the lowering of standards overall, and the poor results for our high school kids in international comparisons. I also believed that the solid consensus in reading intervention research could be reflected in standards and that we could use the CCSS to promote better instruction for kids at risk.

There were two shocks in store for the doctor.

One was the onslaught of monied interests into the field of testing production. "I never imagined when we were drafting standards in 2010 that major financial support would be funneled immediately into the development of standards-related tests. How naïve I was."

The other was the application of the standards. Moats seems to have thought that she was writing "aspirational" goals for the top students. "Realistically, at least half, if not the majority, of students are not going to meet those standards as written." For those students who can not meet these standards, many other paths to education and career are needed. Imagine-- multiple paths and not just one size fits all.

If I could take all the money going to the testing companies and reinvest it, I’d focus on the teaching profession – recruitment, pay, work conditions, rigorous and on-going training. 

Dr. Moats also advocate for a strong foundation of fundamentals for the lower levels, with the more complex texts saved for the upper grades. This dovetails with what seems to be her greatest criticism-- that CCSS has tossed aside much of what we were and are learning about how students learn to read in favor of approaches that are not actually research based at all. From reading instruction to writing instruction, we are not making use of the research that is out there. Dr. Moats asserts that we should be training teachers in that research and the application of it rather than running teachers through "poorly designed workshops on teaching comprehension of difficult text or getting kids to compose arguments and essays."

Dr. Moats also confirms what hundreds of teachers have sensed are issues with the standards here:

The standards obscure the critical causal relationships among components, chiefly the foundational skills and the higher level skills of comprehension that depend on fluent, accurate reading.  Foundations should be first!  The categories of the standards obscure the interdependence of decoding, spelling, and knowledge of language.

And here:

The standards treat the foundational language, reading, and writing skills as if they should take minimal time to teach and as if they are relatively easy to teach and to learn. They are not. 

What is implied in the interview is that the standards that emerged are the work of amateurs who did not understand or did not use the available research about reading and writing. What is repeatedly sold as research-based is, in fact, research-deprived. And what substance is there is further hampered by the fact that teachers lack the training to implement it-- are, in fact, getting training that makes matters worse. To be clear, I don't know that I'd be doing a happy dance if Dr. Moats got to rewrite the standards as she wishes, but as the CCSS battle rages on, her voice is important to hear.

So yet another CCSS co-creator emerges to say

A) That was not what I signed up for

B) The end product is seriously defective


  1. Thank you for this. I'm a 21-year veteran teacher from a family of teachers. I LOVE this blog. I think this will be my salvation as I get through another year, another round of observations, an effete, ineffective principal who is passive-aggressive, petty, vindictive, and in total denial. THANK YOU.

  2. She needs to make the talk show rounds (if the plutocrats allow it).

    I don't mean to be picky, but the talking point, "one-size-fits-all" suggests that the CCSS work for 'all'.

    ONE-SIZE-FITS -FEW sounds much better.

  3. I now serve as advocate for special education students struggling with reading comprehension while being forced to endure instruction at reading levels 3 grades above their current abilities. This is abusive, and terribly damaging.