Common Core and DAP: Seeking clarity

April 20, 2015

April 20, 2015

Kyle Snow, Ph.D, Director, Center for Applied Research, National Association for the Education of Young Children, discusses Common Core State Standards and Developmentally Appropriate Practice.

The numerous, and diverse, entries in this series related to the Common Core State Standards is testimony to the complexity they present to early childhood education. The Common Core directly applies to young children (and teachers) in kindergarten and later, with implications for children (and their teachers) prior to kindergarten as well. In fall 2012, the National Association for the Education of Young Children released a brief outlining what were considered opportunities and concerns for early childhood education within the Common Core. Since then, we have heard far more about the concerns than the opportunities presented by the Common Core. The most typical of these is that the Common Core is not developmentally appropriate for young children, or some variation of this. Such a statement is indeed alarming, and may or may not turn out to be true. What is intriguing about it, however, is that it lacks specificity–what exactly is the concern being stated? If we can articulate the concern (or concerns) precisely, we can better formulate approaches to address it (or them).

Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

Having talked about the Common Core with teachers, researchers, and policy makers, there seem to be three central issues buried within the “Common Core is not developmentally appropriate” concern:

Is the content of the Common Core appropriate for young children?

  1. Will the Common Core affect teaching?
  2. Will the Common Core lead to inappropriate use of assessment?

Variations of these have been raised in this blog series. These are also discussed in a new brief on this page from NAEYC.

As this dialogue unfolds, it is important to consider how much the concerns noted above are the result of the Common Core, and how much they are driven by other or additional forces. In other words, where is the pressure coming from? It is critical to understand the origins of what have been ongoing trends in early childhood education to formulate effective responses to them.

It is also critical to distinguish between what may be considered real threats and what are perceived threats to early childhood education ideals. A critical starting point in doing so is to ensure that we are well versed in the complexities of implementing developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) as well as the details of what the Common Core standards say (and do not say). As has been noted in previous blogs, the Common Core standards describe the learning goals and expectations at each grade (the “what”) not the processes of supporting children to reach towards these goals (the “how”). It is important to explore the reasonableness of all children reaching these goals (that is, validate the “what”), as well as ensuring that we not narrow our educational focus.

At the same time, we must ensure that early educators are prepared and supported to bring DAP into their classrooms (that is, nurture the “how”).

This page was edited April 21 to include a link to the new brief from NAEYC.


The Common Core State Standards are not a curriculum

April 10, 2015

Dorothy Strickland, NIEER Distinguished Research Fellow, responds to specific issues raised in various venues by questioners, considering whether literacy standards and related assessments can be developmentally appropriate.

Concern: Kindergarten standards are not appropriate for children that age. Assessment related to reaching standards will not be developmentally appropriate, and results may be misused.

Much of the concern about CCSS relates to two areas–curriculum and assessment–and not to the standards themselves. Please note: The Common Core State Standards are NOT a curriculum. The curriculum must be developed by those responsible for instruction. This might include collaborative efforts by State Departments of Education and school district personnel.

Curriculum

Regarding issues related to the absence of play: Developmental appropriateness has long been a part of our early childhood agenda. Fortunately, there is NOTHING in the CCSS to encourage concerns that there is no room for developmentally appropriate practice. Playful and experiential learning have always been essential elements of an early childhood curriculum and instruction and remain so.

Key Design Considerations are included in the introduction (p.4) of the CCSS: An integrated model of literacy is recommended. That is, the language arts (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) will be integrated with each other and with content of interest and importance to young children. Research and media skills will be blended into the Standards as a whole.

story time 3Educators familiar with EC know that the integration of process (ELA) and content (how plants grow, the weather, etc.) is fundamental to theme-based or project-based curriculum and instruction. This has been a basic tenet of early childhood literacy and it remains alive and well. Children explore/research questions related to topics of importance and interest to them. Books, objects, hands-on activities, and media of various types are used to explore topics/themes with children. Teachers engage children as they read aloud to them and discuss what is read. Children are also involved in shared /interactive reading. They are encouraged to follow-up independently as they explore the topics on their own through reading/pretend reading and drawing/writing about topics under investigation.

None of this is new to the field. However, the CCSS promote attention to specific goals, such as: With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text. At the kindergarten level, the text is likely read/shared with the children by the teacher. This Standard encourages listening, responding, sharing ideas. Equally important, children are learning about a topic of interest to them. This will include new information and concepts and often includes new vocabulary or “known” vocabulary used in a new way.

A focus on thinking with text, and problem solving is encouraged. Again, this is meant to be done in a developmentally appropriate way with an emphasis on gradually increasing expectations throughout the grades. The CCSS are intended to promote skills/strategies that go beyond memorization and foster the application of what is learned in new situations.

The use of technology to support curriculum and instruction is encouraged. Indeed, texts may be traditional print or digital. And, we must not forget oral texts–these relate to listening.

Assessment

Much of the concern expressed about CCSS relates to assessment. Excessive assessment is, indeed, an issue in some states. However, like curriculum, it is not a function of the CCSS. An increased reliance on Summative Assessments, in particular, has caused concern among many educators. Purposes and uses include to:

  • inform educators, students, parents, and the public about the status of student achievement
  • hold schools accountable for meeting achievement goals
  • inform relevant education policies re: areas in need of attention and resource allocation
  • adjust/differentiate instruction according to student needs
  • gauge performance of teachers and principals.

While these purposes/uses have always existed, they have taken on new emphasis in recent years (especially their use as tools in educator evaluation) and are often linked to the CCSS. For those whose states have adopted the PARCC assessment and others, I encourage a look at the Model Content Frameworks developed to bridge the Standards with the PARCC Assessments. They can be found online at www.parcconline.

  • Professional Development should make extensive use of the Model Content Frameworks that accompany the PARCC assessment. The Model Content Frameworks are:
    • a voluntary resource not a curriculum
    • designed to help teachers better understand the standards and how key elements of the assessment design interact with the standards within a grade and across grade levels.

Research Support

Appendix A: Common Core Standards for ELA/Literacy: Supporting Research and GlossarySimilar materials may be found in other appendices.



The good, the bad, and the solution

April 1, 2015

The first responses addressing concerns about CCSS in early childhood education are from Kathleen A. Paciga, Columbia College Chicago;  Jessica L. Hoffman, Winton Woods City School District; and William H. Teale, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Literacy instruction may become limited to a few texts and drill-and-kill teaching.

There are two issues embedded in this concern: (1) drill/didactic literacy teaching and (2) too few texts.

With respect to the concern about drill-and-kill teaching, we believe: That teachers should teach literacy in kindergarten.

The CCSS propose a list of specific English/Language Arts concepts and skills that kindergartners should learn (and therefore teachers should teach).

research set 2Good news: The list includes both foundational and higher-level skills; and it encompasses not only reading, but also writing and a rather robust conception of oral language.

Potential bad news: Many educators look at the standards and conclude that the best way to effect children’s learning of them is to teach them–the interpretation of the word teach being sit them down and give them specific lessons on the specific skills so that they can practice and thereby learn those skills.

Problem: This conception of teaching is drill-and-kill. It is not even recommended on “constrained skills” of early literacy, such as alphabet knowledge and phonological awareness, and is totally useless for impacting “unconstrained skills” such as comprehension, composing in writing, or integrating knowledge and ideas.

Solution: As much as possible, embed intentional literacy instruction in the context of content-rich, meaningful activities (such as dramatic play, science activities, and thematic units like the Farm to Table example discussed in Hoffman, et al. (2014).

 Too few texts: Here’s the good news about the K-1 Text Exemplars (see CCSS-ELA Appendix B): the stories, poetry, and read aloud selections listed there are, for the most part, high quality literature (“text selections…worth reading and re-reading” that “will encourage students and teachers to dig more deeply into their meanings than they would with lower quality material”), and they are also works that would be engaging to many kindergartners. Here’s the bad news about those exemplars:

  • They are unacceptably under-representative of multicultural literature and international literature for U.S. children.
  • They are prone to be regarded as “the Common Core texts we need to include in our program.” (We have repeatedly seen instances of school administrators purchasing the list of books included in Appendix B.) This is very problematic, as the CCSS do intend that these particular books serve as the basis for the curriculum, and there are SO many other books available that can more appropriately be used, depending on the particular school in question.
  • Far too many kindergarten teachers have little knowledge of children’s literature, and the CCSS provide no resources for them to use in selecting books beyond the few text exemplars included.

The CCSS don’t say we should exclude the play

March 30, 2015

The first responses addressing concerns about CCSS in early childhood education are from Kathleen A. Paciga, Columbia College Chicago;  Jessica L. Hoffman, Winton Woods City School District; and William H. Teale, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Rigorous standards may lead to reduced play and rich activity in preschool and Kindergarten classrooms.

There is no reason on earth that more rigorous early literacy standards should lead to reduced play in preschool and kindergarten. But there has been a dramatic decrease in the amount of “play” time in early education contexts (e.g., Frost, 2012; Gray, 2011; Sofield, 2013). The CCSS make no specific mention of play, nor do they specify the methods through which kindergartners are to demonstrate meeting the standards, so why is there a flood of commentary from practitioners (e.g., Cox, n.d.; Holland, 2015), professional organizations and advocates (e.g., Carlsson-Paige, McLaughlin, & Almon, 2015; Nemeth, 2012; Paciga, Hoffman & Teale, 2011[1]), larger media hubs (e.g., Kenny, 2013), and parents, too, about the role of play (and the lack of it) in early education since the release of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2010?

Project set 5

We suspect it is a combination of several influences, two of which are especially pertinent to our comments here. One relates to the points we made about “drill and kill” instruction. The specificity and ramped-up expectations of the CCSS have prompted many administrators to issue mandates to spend X number of minutes teaching Y. The misconception here lies in what constitutes teaching in an early childhood classroom. The CCSS don’t really discuss play, one way or the other. But the experiences with language and literacy that young children need, and the freedom for discussion and exploration that play allows, are critically important. Dramatic play with embedded literacy props and language interactions; retelling stories through flannel boards and puppets; or, making characters from clay and discussing them; writing stories, lists, and letters; composing signs for structures created with blocks—these and other play-related activities offer so much more in the way of developmentally appropriate opportunities to teach the concepts and skills embodied in the CCSS.

The other—related—factor contributing to reduced play and rich activity is a topic that has been discussed in early childhood education for the past 30 years: the push down of the curriculum from the later primary grades into earlier education. Add to that the recent emphasis on Value-Added-Measures (VAM) for teacher evaluation and, voila, we find in K and pre-K increased emphasis on narrowly focused skills such as phonemic awareness, alphabet knowledge, phonics, and sight word recognition that are susceptible to being measured by standardized assessments. The trouble is that these skills can be taught without embedding them in a rich play context, and too often administrators are more worried about scores to prove value added, than about ensuring that children have deep understanding of both foundational and higher level understandings in early literacy.

As Pondiscio (2015) points out, “No one wants to see academic pressure bearing down on kindergarteners. That would only lead to uninterested children and with dim reading prospects. But focusing on language in kindergarten does not entail diminished play-based learning.” As early childhood professionals, we need to emphasize that our objection is to the administrative recommendations for how we prepare children for mandated assessments, rather than (1) including reading, writing, and language-based experiences in our school day, or (2) on the absence of play-based literacy learning…because the CCSS don’t say we should exclude the play.

 

[1] Paciga, K.A., Hoffman, J.L. & Teale, W.H. (2011). The National Early Literacy Panel Report and classroom instruction: Green lights, caution lights, and red lights. Young Children, 66 (6), 50-57.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Top concerns about Common Core State Standards in early childhood education

March 26, 2015

There’s been lots of discussion about the Common Core State Standards recently, and their impact on classroom activity and child outcomes. Common Core is a major policy initiative to reform K-12 classroom practices, raise expectations and implement a new generation of assessments (at least in grades 3 and up), so it has major implications for Kindergarten-3rd grade (and early childhood education) teachers, children, and parents. It must be examined critically and debated. As we know, even if the policy is sound, implementation matters.

children in classA recurring concern is that the Common Core State Standards were developed from the top-down (setting standards for 12th graders first, and then working backwards to set expectations for the lower grades, failing to take sufficient account of research-based learning progressions for children from birth-age 5. A related issue: Some feel there was insufficient involvement of early childhood research experts in language, literacy, mathematics, and child development in the standards development process.

Over the next few weeks, we plan to have experts comment on the top concerns and issues we’ve heard about CCSS.

  • Rigorous standards may lead to reduced play and rich activity in preschool and Kindergarten classrooms.
  • Literacy instruction may become limited to a few texts and drill-and-kill teaching.
  • The standards are complex and extensive, and there is little guidance for teachers to implement them in Kindergarten classrooms.
  • Parents don’t understand the CCSS and are concerned about what they mean for their children.
  • The Kindergarten standards for literacy are not appropriate for children that age.
  • Assessment related to reaching standards will not be developmentally appropriate, and results may be misused.
  • Alignment with K-12 standards will mean teaching methods, subjects, and assessments that are not developmentally appropriate will be pushed down to preschool levels.
  • Math standards will be too challenging for young children.

We welcome your participation as well. Please comment and weigh in on the concerns and our experts’ responses.


Anticipating quality for all children

September 10, 2014

I remember the anticipation each fall as school was about to begin. So much was going on in my mind. Who was going to be in my class? What kind of year was it going to be? What were we going to learn? I was excited. I was nervous. These memories are not from when I was four or five, but rather when I was a teacher in the classroom. Twenty years ago this fall I began my tenure as an early childhood teacher. Although I no longer teach in the classroom, I still feel this excitement through my children’s eyes and through the work I do with teachers and leaders in the field.

I see young children filled with excitement and anticipation around the towns hopping on buses, jumping into cars, and lacing up their shoes to walk to school. So, it is this time of year that I pause to reflect on what young children deserve in their educational lives to maintain this excitement, and to increase their success both now in their early education career and later, in their learning down the road.

Yearbook set 6

  • All young children should have access to a high-quality preschool experience. Roughly 75 percent of all young children attend preschool at age four and half of these children attend preschool at age three. Unfortunately, most programs are not of high quality. Only 18 percent of low-income children and 29 percent of high-income children are enrolled in good pre-K.
  • All young children should be taught by qualified teachers who are well-trained, dedicated and caring. These teachers should know the science of teaching and understand the art of educating young children. States vary in teacher preparation requirements. These include teacher degree, preparation specifically in early childhood, and the in-service support provided.
  • All children should feel safe and healthy at school. Early care and education can improve children’s health both directly in the short-term and indirectly through long-term effects of education on health, health-related behavior, and access to health care.
  • All children should have access to materials and opportunities to advance their learning. This learning should be across domains, including language and literacy, science and math, and social studies. Children should also have ample opportunities to persist through difficult tasks, develop social problem-solving skills and self-regulation with support from an adult, and to be curious and solve problems.
  • All children should engage in play and hands-on meaningful learning. This provides children opportunities to learn, demonstrate their skills and development, and apply their learning flexibly to new and unique situations in a safe environment. Children often exhibit higher level skills in language and math through their play than in other didactic learning situations.
  • All children deserve individualized attention from teachers who know what the children know and understand how to bring their learning to the next level. Formative assessment is a process that teachers employ to collect and use assessment information to tailor instruction to the individual needs of children. Collecting information from multiple sources and analyzing it in light of children’s individual learning needs can support teaching whereby all children learn and develop.
  • All children should feel welcomed and valued in classrooms. Welcoming all children and valuing their home language and culture is an important part of early schooling. Moving forward, a concerted effort must go into educating and hiring bilingual staff with special attention to enhancing practices supportive of dual language learners.

I wish you a wonderful year and thank you as you continue to support early education so that all children have multiple opportunities to succeed.

-Shannon Riley-Ayers, NIEER/CEELO Assistant Research Professor


“First you work and then it’s play.”

June 19, 2014

The words of 4-year-old Misty still ring in my ears, as she described her impending rite of passage to kindergarten. When asked what she would do in kindergarten, she replied, “Play and learn. Actually, learn and play, ’cause it’s learn first and then play.”

Misty was one of two dozen “graduating” preschoolers I interviewed in North Carolina and Vermont while researching my (unpublished) dissertation about preschoolers’ perceptions of, and attitudes toward, kindergarten. I wanted to understand and give voice to an important perspective missing from the school readiness debates–the children themselves. I learned much in the process, realizing that even at this early age, children were aware of the distinction between play and work as they prepared to enter “the big school.”

Through their words and drawings, children conveyed that kindergarten would be a learning experience filled with numerous activities.  Very few children expressed any uncertainty about what to expect; the majority had very clear ideas about the activities they would be doing in kindergarten. These activities fell into two categories–learn and play.

The children described learning as the work of kindergarten. They would be working earnestly to acquire new information and skills. Oddly reminiscent of the three R’s of traditional schooling, they described learning activities centered around reading, writing, and arithmetic. They were expecting to be immersed in an academic learning environment which promoted literacy above all else. Little or no reference was made to science, social studies, music, or other areas. The children were looking forward to acquiring these skills and meeting the expectations of teachers. Even when it came to art, I was told artists need to go to school “to learn how to draw like they’re supposed to.”

Playground, from a child’s perspective

Wardrobe considerations were also important when it came to learning. As Marci confided “I had to buy a new backpack because I’ll need homework.” A thousand miles away, Brie confirmed that homework was coming. “You learn how to do homework and how to do letters. If you’re big people, you’ve got to do homework.”

Not everyone was excited about the prospect about learning, though. When I asked Dawn how she was feeling about going to kindergarten, she lamented “Well, I don’t think it’s going to be so good because you know it’s hard to really listen and, you know, stand around and learn something. It’s not going to be so good, because I know that it’s really hard to just learn because learning is a really hard job to do.”

In addition to the hard work of learning, children created a very strong association between going to kindergarten and playing.  They perceived kindergarten would be fun, linking it closely to the opportunity to play. Casey explained, “Kindergarten is really fun. You get to do fun things. You get to play. You get to play a lot.” Heading to school in the fall with her third-grade brother, Twyla was glad that she was going to be a kindergartner. “I think it’s going to be . . . big kids learning stuff and little kids playing.”

The importance of play in the lives of kindergartners was evident throughout the interviews and in their drawings, and they fully expected it to continue when they arrive in the fall.  Preschoolers envisioned kindergarten as an environment filled with toys, many new playmates, and opportunities to play both indoors and outdoors.  Although learning would take place in kindergarten, they were anticipating ample opportunities for play. And that meant being able to make some of their own choices. Learning was imposed, play was freely chosen. Many were resigned to the realization that they’d be making a transition to a more teacher-directed agenda, but hopeful that play wouldn’t have to be sacrificed.

In the end, children perceived kindergarten to be a place where they would both learn and play. They expected to acquire new skills and information in kindergarten and, although learning may be difficult, they wanted it and expected to be successful with it. They also made it clear how important play remained in their lives, as if pleading their case for retaining play in kindergarten.

The play debates are likely to continue for years to come. No one disputes the value of play in the lives of young children; nor do we dispute the need for children to gain important intellectual skills, not always gained independently. As discussions continue about the appropriate balance of each, let’s not forget that there is an additional stakeholder group involved–those who were born in 2009 or later.

Illustrator James Estes may have captured it in a cartoon conversation between two  preschoolers building castles in the sandbox, “Next year we have to start school . . . You realize that’ll be the end of life as we know it.” If it weren’t so true, it would be funny.

–Jim Squires, NIEER Senior Research Fellow


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