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«ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Principal Writer – Ellen Brinkley, Western Michigan University With Research Support From – Nancy Harper, Education Consultant ...»

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The College Board

English Language Arts Framework


Principal Writer – Ellen Brinkley, Western Michigan University

With Research Support From – Nancy Harper, Education Consultant

The College Board English Academic Advisory Committee:

Ronald Sudol (Chair), Oakland University

Ellen Brinkley, Western Michigan University

George Gadda, University of California – Los Angeles

Mary Jo Potts, Webb School of Knoxville Sylvia Sarrett, Hillsborough High School Alice Turner Venson, National Center on Education and Economy Contents Introduction English language arts plays a key role in students’ high school and college success. That role is reflected in each of the major College Board programs as well--Advanced Placement courses and assessments in literature, language, and composition; Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test; College-Level Examination Program; and the new SAT in 2005, which includes an essay requirement for the first time. Given the key role of English language arts in College Board programs, and the fact that more than three million students participate in College Board programs each year, the College Board recognizes the need to develop an English language arts framework as a foundational document that can serve as a guide to assurethat College Board English language arts programs are grounded in theory, research, and best practice.

The College Board English Language Arts Framework provides a curricular context for the Board’s current English language arts programs. It situates the Board’s English language arts courses, assessments, and professional development programs within the discipline of English language arts. It builds on the recent work of the National Commission on Writing and looks to the future to consider how the College Board might continue to strengthen and support the teaching and learning of English language arts.

The framework begins with an attempt to define the English language arts and to describe the consensus within the profession of English educators, to the extent that it exists, about what often seems an amorphous field of study. Grounded in research, theory, and best practice, the framework includes discussion of each of the major components that together constitute English language arts as a content area. It addresses complex issues related to the design of English language arts curricula and identifies some of the conflicting views that occasionally exist among English language arts professionals. It describes classroom assessment issues as well as external assessments beyond the classroom, and it discusses issues related to professional development needs of English language arts teachers.

Special attention is given to the integration of existing and emerging technologies into the English language arts classroom and to carrying out the College Board’s commitment to equity and excellence for all students. Throughout the framework the needs and interests of learners, teachers, and the public are considered.

The Challenge

In today’s world, life itself depends on words that are spoken, written, and digitally transmitted.

News, opinions, and entertainment appear in hard copy, online transmissions, and round-theclock television. In such an environment, all students need to develop a range of rich language proficiencies and resources.

National studies and reports in the past have sounded alarms about students’ English language arts performance. The titles of such reports have sometimes called attention to basicskills problems by exploring Why Johnny Can’t Read (Flesch, 1955) or by describing A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). Similarly, the College Board’s recently published report on the teaching of writing describes writing as the Neglected ‘R’ and issues a call for a “writing revolution” (National Commission on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges, 2003).

Many states have recently developed, added to, or updated their English language arts standards and assessments. At the federal level, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 has specified that student performance in reading/language arts and mathematics must improve year by year. In a related move, states and local districts are expected to ensure that English language arts teachers are well grounded in their content area and that they participate in high-quality professional development programs. In response to NCLB legislation, English educators at all levels are taking stock of what is needed to assure that all students have access to a quality English language arts education.

In most school districts, students’ curriculum includes English language arts every year from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Even so, many students leave thirteen years of English language arts instruction with minimal reading and writing skills. National assessment and research data suggest a number of problems in the teaching and learning of English language arts.

Recent NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) data reveal that fewer than 6 percent of seventeen-year-olds perform at or above Level 350 in reading, the highest of four possible reading levels, described as follows: “Readers at this level can extend and restructure the ideas presented in specialized and complex texts. Examples include scientific materials, literary essays, and historical documents. Readers are also able to understand the links between ideas, even when those links are not explicitly stated, and to make appropriate generalizations.

Performance at this level suggests the ability to synthesize and learn from specialized reading materials” (Perie, Meran, and Lutkus, 2005). Middle school teachers report that too many students, especially young men, are turned off to reading and lack basic reading skills (Wilhelm, 1997). Meanwhile, high school English teachers notice that students in “basic” English classes resist writing and seem embarrassed by their lack of writing skill. Among students who go on to college, a significant number fail to meet entrance-level requirements in reading and writing and are required to take remedial, non-credit courses that add to their overall cost, slow their progress, and too often result in their leaving school without earning a degree.

The fact is that individual reading and writing needs are seldom addressed adequately in middle and high school classrooms. High school English language arts teachers frequently assume that students will already have overcome basic reading problems in the earlier grades. But in fact, middle and high school students at each grade level have wide ranging levels of knowledge, experience, and skills. Their individual reading levels may vary within a single class by three or four grade levels or more. Students who are English language learners face a host of additional language challenges, and many English teachers are unprepared to meet the needs of their ELL students. Furthermore, students’ home resources (books and magazines, television, computer with internet access, family travel) vary dramatically from town to town and state to state.

Another significant challenge is that at every level English language arts teachers are expected to teach a wide range of distinct English language processes, skills, and content— reading, writing, speaking, listening, literature study, research strategies, language skills, media literacy, and more. English teachers must be highly proficient in each area, and they face an ongoing challenge to skillfully integrate the study of the English language arts. Unless their undergraduate preparation and intern teaching experiences are especially strong and effective, new English teachers sometimes revert back into outdated teaching strategies that were used when they were students themselves.

From a practical perspective, middle- and high-school English language arts teachers across the country routinely work within a pressure-cooker environment. Typically they teach five classes a day or more, with at least two or three preparations a day, for up to 150 or more students each day. In such circumstances there is rarely enough time for even the best English teachers to read and provide individual feedback to students’ written assignments. There is often little opportunity to coordinate plans with their English colleagues or to collaborate with teachers in other content areas. They learn about new technologies and how to use them only when they can put everything else on hold. Of necessity (and for pleasure) they make a hobby of reading new novels they might want to teach.

Meeting the Challenge

National English language arts standards documents (NCTE/IRA, 1996) describe the English language arts as an integrated collection of separate processes and content elements. Materials that accompany the national standards describe the skill and artistry of individual teachers who effectively integrate the language arts at particular grade levels. But even teachers who have read the standards documents, those who regularly read professional journals and who attend national conferences, are challenged by the complexities of English language arts as a discipline. To be an effective English language arts teacher requires a deep understanding of reading and the teaching of reading, writing and the teaching of writing, plus speaking and listening, viewing and visually representing, literature study, and the study of the English language.

Challenges related to the teaching of the English language arts deserve careful thought, action, and oversight by professional leaders and by local, state, and national stakeholders. The College Board can continue to play an important role by addressing issues of articulation between high school and college through its assessments, advanced placement courses in literature and composition, and professional development programs for teachers. In addition, through three new initiatives the College Board has moved toward taking a more active and public role toward

strengthening English language arts:

• Revising the SAT to include an essay component increases the attention writing will get in high school classrooms and underscores the importance of writing as an essential career and life skill.

• Establishing the National Commission on Writing and publishing the Commission’s report calls public attention to the power and value of writing and provides a “writing agenda for the nation.” • Developing College Board Standards for College Success in English Language Arts provides detailed performance expectations and a progression of skills that will guide teachers and their students toward more rigorous reading and writing performance.

This Framework and Student Learning

It is important to call attention in this introduction to the fact that, generally speaking, funding for research in the English language arts is often minimal, with the notable exception of funding related to reading and the teaching of reading, especially at the elementary level. NAEP data is especially valued among English language arts leaders primarily because so few other sources of national data exist for English language arts. Large-scale English language studies, like those that were conducted in the 1950s and 1960s (see Hook, 1961; Jewitt, 1959; Squire, 1962), are rare today.

It is also important to acknowledge that any document about the teaching and learning of English language arts is certain to be controversial in some ways. Discussions about the teaching of grammar, for example, almost inevitably arouse the passions of English language arts teachers and the general public as well, no matter what stand is taken. The College Board English Language Arts Framework, nevertheless, reflects a general consensus, as understood by the writers, about the teaching, learning, and assessing of English language arts and about professional development for English language arts teachers.

With these caveats in mind, The College Board English Language Arts Framework describes the factors central to the development and maintenance of high-quality programs in middle school and high school English language arts. In an era that calls for increasing accountability by all involved in public education, this framework attempts to provide answers or

suggestions that will reflect the College Board’s efforts relative to the following questions:

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