Change or Slight of Hand?

According to news reports this past week, 46 states including New York State, have agreed to “the process and development of voluntary, common standards.” Said standards would be in draft form for review by July 2009 with grade-by-grade standards available in December 2009. States would have three years to adopt and implement those standards.

Now, I am not against national standards per se, I just want standards that are manageable, measurable and relevant. Having waited anxiously for the revision to the NYS ELA standards since last June, I find it hard to believe that a national group with appropriate representation is going to be able to reach consensus and produce something that will meet those criteria in a matter of a few weeks. Sadly, I became even more skeptical when I read the actual agreement drafted by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices which contains criteria for said standards, which will be:
- Fewer, clearer, and higher, to best drive effective policy and practice;
- Aligned with college and work expectations, so that all students are prepared for success upon graduating from high school;
- Inclusive of rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills, so that all students are prepared for the 21st century;
- Internationally benchmarked, so that all students are prepared for succeeding in our global economy and society; and
- Research and evidence-based.

It has taken a year for NYS to review and develop a plan for their revision of state standards in ELA. The last time I was in Albany I was told the committee was still discussing them and “tweaking” what they had before roll-out for public comment, now scheduled for Fall 2009. We have had some sneak peeks at what to anticipate, such as the fact that we will now have a Literacy and Literature strand and that in addition to Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking, we will now add Viewing and Presenting.

The latter two are very similar to the National Council for the Teachers of English (NCTE) Standards for the English Language Arts which frankly don’t look too terribly different from what NYS currently has in place. So the cynic in me is doubting whether there is going to be any real change when it comes to the standards. If NYS has already spent significant time and energy into developing these revised standards, yet have agreed to develop the national pieces (of which 85% should be adopted by the states voluntarily) – is there going to be real change or are we just going through the motions?

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