Common Core State Standards: Misconceptions about Text Exemplars

by Kathy G. Short, University of Arizona

CCSS Text Exemplars for K-1 Stories & A contemporary text set of K-1 Stories

The Common Core State Standards are currently having a tremendous impact on materials and instruction in K-12 classrooms. As with any new initiative, a range of interpretations are swirling about, leading to concerns and misconceptions. My focus is on misconceptions related to these standards as they connect to children’s and adolescent literature and each week I will focus on a different misconception. The Common Core State Standards were developed by a group appointed by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. This group examined research on the levels of literacy needed for success in college and careers and then worked backwards to determine the literacy knowledge they believed students need at each grade level to be college and career ready by the end of high school. These grade-specific standards in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language also set requirements for literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical content areas. Performance-based assessments are being developed by several groups to measure student achievement and to evaluate teachers and schools.

One issue of major concern to educators is the grade-level lists of text exemplars that are included in Appendix B of the CCSS. Many schools and some states interpret these lists of stories, poems, and informational texts as core lists that all students should read and are attempting to purchase these sets and mandate them for classroom use. A close reading of the standards document indicates that the list and text excerpts are provided to help teachers explore the levels of complexity and quality of texts recommended for a particular grade level, so they can make their own informed selections. The lists are thus exemplars of text complexity, not a mandated reading list.

Because the goal of the standards group was to show text complexity, they needed to provide excerpts from each of the selected texts. One of the issues that the group encountered was getting permission to publish excerpts without paying large permission fees. An administrator from CCSSO told me that many of the texts they originally chose had to be eliminated because they could not get these permissions. That’s one reason why the lists contain so many older books and out-of-print books. For example, the stories listed as exemplars for K-1 were published between 1957 and1978, with only one recent book. Not only is there no global or multicultural diversity in settings or characters, only one book even has people in it—the others are animals. Many of the books are classics, such as Are You My Mother? (1960) by P.D. Eastman (1960) and Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel (1972), found in most school and classroom libraries. Children have loved these books for many years, but they are not, and should never be considered, a core list for K-1 classrooms. The same issues are evident in the text exemplars at the high school level, which are dominated by classics such as Don Quixote by de Cervantes (1605) and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin (1813).

This misinterpretation of text exemplars as a mandated reading list, rather than as examples of text complexity, is highly problematic and creates a context in which students are restricted to books that are dated and lacking in diversity. Without balancing the classics with the richness of contemporary literature, students would soon come to the conclusion that books are of little relevance to their personal lives, discouraging their continued engagement as readers—not exactly the goal of teachers and schools.

We have started to work on text sets for K-5 classrooms and hope to create high school lists as well that provide examples of more globally and culturally diverse texts at similar complexity levels. A beginning K-5 list is attached.

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  1. Erika Thibodeaux
    Posted September 18, 2013 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    As a parent, I want to know where the most important books are. My son has no textbooks to bring home and learns things through workbooks. You say you are preparing them for college. I’m not sure if you went to college, but when I was there, textbooks were a big part of the learning process. From what I hear from various people I know who are now in college, they still are. How are the children you are teaching going to learn how to learn and study out a textbook when they are not given text books to study with?
    I understand how you say that the books that are suggested are not mandated, but to me, why are books that are highly inappropriate for teenagers or younger age kids even on the list that teachers can pick from? I try to shelter my children from the worldly craziness and I don’t think it’s ok for his teacher to be able to pick or suggest a book to read that explains 2 people having sex!
    In my opinion, your system needs work!

  2. Brian
    Posted September 12, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    The text exemplars ARE something to be concerned about. Although the (very comprehensive) list of exemplar texts are not mandated, the end of year assessments WILL be based on much of what a student would learn from….

    You guessed it – the exemplar texts.

    We are getting dangerously close to telling our teachers exactly what they must teach, and how they should teach it.

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  1. […] of these books as well. Kathy Short at the University of Arizona alludes to this in a short World of Words article. She addresses fiction and […]

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