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California and the West

Standards for Reading and Writing Are Unveiled

Education: Group advocates goals for primary grades. Although California has such guidelines, many states lack them.


Reflecting a growing consensus on the need to link classroom instruction to academic standards, leading literacy experts Tuesday unveiled a collection of grade-by-grade skills children should master to become proficient readers and writers.

Authors of the new guidelines say they are intended to fill a void in primary grade classrooms.

Although California and a few other states have adopted language arts standards for all students, most states have focused on selected upper grades such as fourth, eighth and 10th.

Many instructors in kindergarten through third grade have been left largely without guidance despite having to teach the most fundamental skills of literacy.

"What you have in this document are expectations of what children should be doing," said Barbara Foorman, a researcher at the University of Texas who helped draft the guidelines. "It gives states that don't have standards something they can use so they don't have to reinvent the wheel."

The standards were developed jointly by the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh and the National Center on Education and the Economy in Washington.

The organizations assembled 22 reading experts to produce standards from a broad swath of research on early reading instruction.

In an effort to meld the often-warring factions of phonics and whole language backers, the new guidelines call for children to get daily doses of phonics and literature.

And the standards recommend that children read and write daily, starting in kindergarten.

Students would be expected to demonstrate many skills by the end of each school year.

* Kindergartners should be able to recognize and name letters, distinguish sounds in words, and blend those sounds as they read simple words. They also should be able to retell stories that have been read to them and write rudimentary poems and stories, even if the pieces consist of scribbling or letters strung together with pictures.

* First-graders should be able to use the cues of punctuation--including commas, periods, question marks and quotations--to draw meaning from what they read. They also should be able to read simple stories they haven't seen before and use dialogue, transitions and other literary devices in their writing.

* Second-graders should discuss books daily in peer groups and in regular class lessons, comparing works by different authors and talking about recurring themes in various works. They also should be able to introduce characters in their writing as well as use details about settings and motives.

* Third-graders should be able to discuss the plot and setting of books, and grasp the meaning of figurative language such as similes and metaphors. They also should be able to write short stories, songs and poetry, and build on their writing by altering the story line.

Aware that such standards often amount to abstract--and useless--expectations for classroom teachers, the authors of the standards have included concrete examples of student work that meets the goals.

CD-ROM video footage, for example, shows students reading aloud, and features commentary to explain why the work achieves the standards. Dozens of writing samples are provided to match classroom work.

"Teachers can get a visceral idea of what it means to meet the standards," said Marc Tucker, a director of the project. "It's very important for teachers to understand the developmental progression of a student as they go through the various stages of mastering reading and writing."

Tucker and other officials released the standards Tuesday at a Washington news conference. Few state or school officials had seen the new guidelines, which cost $45 for the package, but those who did called them useful tools to train teachers and improve classroom instruction.

"I think this work represents the best knowledge that's out there on how to effectively teach reading and writing," said Christopher Cross, president of the Council for Basic Education, a Washington organization that works to raise standards nationwide.

"Teachers don't feel terribly well-informed about what represents good work, particularly in reading. They are always looking for good examples of practice."

State education officials in California had not seen the new guidelines but questioned how they would fit with the state's recently adopted standards for reading and writing that are now tested on the Stanford 9 exam.

"The classroom teacher in California is probably going to pay closest attention to the state adopted standards, since the statewide testing program has been aligned to those standards," said Cathy Barkett, who oversees curriculum for the state Department of Education.

"You won't be off track in California if you use these standards and all of their rich examples to progress through the grades," said Lauren Resnick, a director of the project. "You'll be in better shape than you would be without them."

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