Materials Adaptation, Standards-Alignment Information, Tools and Resources

Introduction to the Publishers’ Criteria for ELA/Literacy

Sue Pimentel, one of the lead writers of the Common Core, introduces the Publishers’ Criteria

Soon after the widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), questions started to emerge from teachers about whether or not they would need new resources for their ELA/literacy classrooms since the Standards addressed many of the same skills as earlier standards such as reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Others asked if districts and states could trust alignment reports from the publishers themselves that were claiming comprehensive coverage of the CCSS. In response to questions like these, David Coleman (fellow Standards’ author) and I drafted the Publishers’ Criteria (PC) for ELA/Literacy.

A close look at the ELA/Literacy Standards reveals that they require a paradigm shift not always immediately evident from the individual standards listed sequentially in the 60+-page document. The PC specifies what the Standards underscore as the focal point for literacy instruction: close reading of rich, complex texts. It offers clarity regarding the key instructional Shifts that resonate throughout the ELA/Literacy Standards: Students should be reading increasingly complex texts and growing their command of evidence with the goal of building a base of knowledge across an expansive array of subject matter. By underscoring what matters most in the Standards, the PC also identifies those approaches that distract or are at odds with the Standards, such as teaching standards in isolation or marching through a set of skills.

While many cheered the PC, it also sparked an outcry. Some charged that we had anointed ourselves as THE experts to define what instructional resources should look like. Others accused us of exerting way too much influence over our nation’s educational system by first defining what students should learn and now defining how they should learn that content. Our position was that we owed it to the field to offer purposeful and strategic guidance to publishers and curriculum developers about what the Standards demanded—to which they could pay attention or not.

We made the rounds to key publishers to present the guidance in person. We also posted the PC online, and it became a favored download from Thirty-two large urban school districts committed to making purchasing decisions taking the criteria within the PC into consideration. It was at this time that we decided to “operationalize” the PC so schools and districts intending to purchase new instructional resources could utilize a rubric to evaluate their existing resources and score prospective new ones. The Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool (IMET) was the result. The PC and the IMET are mutually supporting and reinforcing: the IMET frames the PC criteria in brief, while the PC includes extended definitions of each of the criteria and explains how the criteria should work together in instructional resources.

Here’s a tip: Using the IMET is itself worthwhile even if you aren’t ready to purchase materials. You can evaluate materials you currently use to determine the degree of alignment present in them, and highlight specific, critical gaps that you can address in the meantime. Then you can create a thoughtful plan to modify or combine existing resources so students’ actual learning experiences embody text complexity, evidence and knowledge building.

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About the Author: Susan Pimentel was a lead writer of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts/Literacy and is a Founding Partner of Student Achievement Partners. Susan’s efforts have been focused on helping communities, districts and states across the nation work together to advance education reform and champion proven tools for increasing academic rigor. Her work has resulted in the phase-out of student tracking, enriched core curricula, and advances in results-based school accountability programs. Susan also has led several national improvement efforts, including two multi-state college and career readiness reform initiatives under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career and Technical Education (OCTAE). Before her work as a lead writer of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts/Literacy, Susan was a chief architect of the American Diploma Project Benchmarks designed to close the gap between high school demands and postsecondary expectations. She also led development of content for the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence—a rigorous discipline-specific national teacher test. Susan holds a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and a law degree from Cornell University. Since 2007, she has served on the National Assessment Governing Board that advises on the nation's report card, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). She has served as the Vice Chair of the Board since 2012. In addition to several articles, Susan is co-author with Denis P. Doyle of the best-selling book and CD-ROM, Raising the Standard: An Eight-Step Action Guide For Schools and Communities.