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Tom Loveless, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has studied NAEP results for years. In this post, he discusses whether the recent flatlining of NAEP was caused by the adoption of the Common Core standards. He says it is too soon to know. We will have to see what happens in 2017 and 2019, maybe even 2021.
But what he does observe is a marked decline in teaching fiction, as compared to informational text. The decline has occurred since 2011, as implementation of Common Core intensified across the nation. The shrinkage of time for teaching fiction was equally large in both fourth and eighth grades. It seems reasonable to conclude that the Common Core standards are causing a decline in teaching fiction.
The Common Core standards recommend that teachers spend 50% of reading time on fiction and 50% on informational text in grades K-8. In high school, the standards propose a division of 30% fiction-70% informational text. When English teachers and members of the public complained about the downgrading of fiction, the CCSS promoters insisted that they referred to the entire curriculum, not just to English. But fiction is not typically taught in science, math, or social studies classes (and when it is taught in social studies classes, it has a good purpose).
Where did these proportions come from? They are drawn directly from NAEP’s guidelines to assessment developers about the source of test questions. The NAEP guidelines were never intended as instructions for teachers about how much time to devote to any genre of reading.
No nation in the world, to my knowledge, directs teachers about the proportion of time to devote to fiction or non-fiction. This is a bizarre recommendation.
I write informational text, so I am all for it. But I think it should be the teachers’ choice about whether to emphasize literature or nonfiction. I believe that learning to read and learning to interpret text can be accomplished in any genre. A student could study all informational text or all literature and be a good or great or poor reader. The genre doesn’t matter as much as other factors, like the student’s level of interest, the age appropriateness of the text, and how it is taught.