Language Arts Draft Poses New Dilemma for Georgia Standards

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — March 24, 2004 2 min read
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Georgia officials will have to scramble to craft new reading and writing guidelines for the state’s K-3 pupils after the state school board rejected a proposal based on literacy standards written by a group of prominent experts.

The board voted to abandon the standards for the subjects recommended by the National Center on Education and the Economy, a nonprofit research and policy group based in Washington. State education officials were concerned that the center’s document could not be altered to suit the state’s needs.

“They weren’t going to let us make any changes to it down the road,” Kirk Englehardt, a spokesman for the state education department, said of center officials. “We have been getting thousands of [public] comments about the proposed curriculum changes, and many people were concerned that the flexibility isn’t there.”

The committee charged with drafting the standards must come up with a new proposal by June. The state board would vote on it in July, and Georgia would begin implementing the guidelines next school year. State tests would be aligned with the new standards in the 2005-06 school year.

Standards vs. Instruction

The flap over the language arts proposal is the latest in a series of controversies over the past month as Georgia has prepared to adopt new standards in core subjects. Suggested standards for science and for history/social studies have become mired in debates over what children should know and be able to do in those subjects. (“Ga. History Plan Stirs Civil War Fuss,” Feb, 18, 2004.)

In the case of reading and writing for the early grades, state officials wanted the authority to alter the center’s standards after hearing concerns that its document did not include enough guidance on teaching phonics and other basic skills, according to Sally Hampton, a senior fellow at the National Center on Education and the Economy. The document, she said, cannot be changed, but it is meant to provide a guiding vision for curriculum development. It is not an instructional outline.

“The difference is that [Georgia officials] are confusing standards with instruction,” Ms. Hampton said. “It’s a standards document, so it does not say how much time should be spent, or which methods or strategies” should be used, she added.

The center’s Primary Literacy Standards were devised in 1999 by a panel of 19 prominent experts in the field, representing various positions along the spectrum of thinking on literacy teaching, from skills- to literature-based instruction. They provide detailed benchmarks for what children should master in reading and writing, but do not recommend teaching methods or materials.

The guidelines have been a popular reference for many states as they’ve worked to write their own frameworks for early reading instruction, Ms. Hampton said. Georgia hired the national center to oversee the development of new standards in core subjects, at a cost of $360,000. The state will not have to pay an additional $125,000 to the organization, which was initially slated for the reading and writing standards.

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