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English Language Arts

The following process was used to identify standards and benchmarks for English Language Arts:

Identification of Significant Reports
The language arts standards address basic knowledge and skills in reading, writing, listening, speaking, and viewing. Federally funded efforts to develop language arts standards were never completed. Specifically, federal funding halted for the Standards Projects for the English Language Arts (SPELA) as of March 1994. One complete draft document survived that effort, the Incomplete Work of the Task Forces of the Standards Project for English Language Arts (1994). It identified standards in five broad areas referred to as strands. The document was the product of a joint effort of the Center for the Study of Reading (CSR) at the University of Illinois, the International Reading Association (IRA), and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). When funding for SPELA was halted in 1994, NCTE and IRA continued their joint effort to produce language arts standards. In 1996, NCTE and IRA published their unsponsored standards in the work Standards for the English Language Arts. It identified 12 broadly articulated standards that cover such skills and abilities as reading a wide range of literature, using a variety of writing strategies, developing an appreciation for differing language patterns and dialects, and applying knowledge of such conventions as spelling and punctuation to create texts. However, the document does not identify specific elements of information and skill as benchmarks for the standards. Rather, the benchmarks that define the specific content within each standard must be inferred from four documents that provide vignettes of how the standards might be addressed at different grade levels.

  • Standards in Practice: Grades K–2 (Crafton, 1996)

  • Standards in Practice: Grades 3–5 (Sierra-Perry, 1996)

  • Standards in Practice: Grades 6–8 (Wilhelm, 1996)

  • Standards in Practice: Grades 9–12 (Smagorinsky, 1996)

In addition to these works, NCTE has developed the Standards Exemplar Series (1997). The series includes Assessing Student Performance Grades K–5, Assessing Student Performance Grades 6–8, and Assessing Student Performance Grades 9–12 (eds., Miles Myers and Elizabeth Spalding). In more recent years, NCTE has partnered with Partnership for 21st Century Skills to design a 21st Century Skills Map (2008) that identifies ways language arts education can support 21st century skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, information and media literacy.

In addition to the NCTE/IRA documents, a number of other documents contain explicit and implicit descriptions of language arts standards; together, they provide a rather comprehensive source of information for identifying standards in the English language arts. Among these are documents produced by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In the area of writing, NAEP has produced the National Assessment of Educational Progress Achievement Levels, 1992–1998 for Writing (2001).This document provides descriptions of basic, proficient, and advanced levels of performance at three levels: grade 4, grade 8, and grade 12. The performance levels represent fairly straightforward descriptions of what students should know and be able to do in writing. In reading, NAEP has produced the National Assessment of Educational Progress Achievement Levels, 1992–1998 for Reading (2001).This document provides explicit statements of what students should know and be able to do relative to the process of reading and identifies the types of materials students should be able to read at various levels. Other sources of explicit descriptions of knowledge and skills students should acquire within the language arts include documents from the Edison Project (1994a, 1994b, 1994c), selected language arts standards from various states (California, Massachusetts, Texas, Georgia, and Virginia), language arts standards from abroad (Australia, Ontario, the United Kingdom, and France), documents from the New Standards Project (New Standards, 1997), the Council for Basic Education (1998b), the language arts curriculum documents from the International Baccalaureate (IB) program (1992,1995d, 1996c) and standards from the Speech Communication Association (1996). Newly added are standards from New Zealand (2007), The American Association of School Librarians (2007), and Partnership for 21st Century Skills and NCTE (2008). Also new are level V benchmarks, which represent the consensus of language arts college readiness standards documents from The American Diploma Project (2004), ACT (2008), and Standards for Success (Conley, 2003). In addition to documents that have a specific focus on the language arts, the document Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (NCSS, 1994) has explicit and implicit standards that deal with reading, writing, and research in enough detail to be useful to this effort.

The domain of media literacy, which addresses student skills in viewing as well as their understanding of media, especially visual media, is relatively new to K–12 education. Only recently has material become available that identifies knowledge and skill appropriate to grade levels in this area. Curriculum documents from the state of Texas were useful in this regard, as well as material available from the Australian Education Council, Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2008), The American Association of School Librarians (2007), the Ontario Ministry of Education, and documents from the New Standards Project (New Standards, 1997). While these documents were valuable, they were relatively sparse as compared to the resources we found necessary for the identification of standards in other areas of the language arts, such as reading and writing. Thus, in order to supplement the curriculum documents, especially for the sake of clarifying examples, a number of other documents were consulted. These works include guides from the British Film Institute (Bazalgette, 1989) and the National Communication Association (1998). Also consulted were published materials from recognized experts in the field of media literacy: Considine and Haley (1992), Hobbes (1997), and Masterman (1985). In order to insure that we had covered the significant concepts of this area, a number of other documents were consulted but not used except to confirm our selection of content. These works include material from Jhally, Kline, and Leiss (1990), the New Mexico Literacy Project (1998), the Scarborough Board of Education (Online), Thoman (1999), and Tyner (1998).

Finally, McREL has published a study entitled A Distillation of Subject-Matter Content for the Subject-Areas of Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science (Kendall, Snyder, Schintgen, Wahlquist, & Marzano, 1999). Researchers at McREL reviewed a selected set of highly rated state standards within each subject area, examining them for common content. The McREL analysis resulted in the identification of the significant subject-area content that consistently appeared within these top rated documents.

Selection of Reference Documents and Identification of Standards
Although the standards developed by NCTE and IRA are certainly considered the "official" language arts standards, neither this document nor its related works were amenable to the level of specificity and detail necessary to this study. Given the lack of appropriateness of the NCTE/IRA documents for this effort, different reference documents were identified for different aspects of the English language arts. Two NAEP documents were identified as reference documents for reading and writing since they contained the most explicit statements of standards. Specifically, the reference document selected for the general area of writing was the Description of Writing Achievement Levels—Setting Process and Proposed Achievement Level Definitions. The reference document selected for the general area of reading was Assessment and Exercise Specifications: NAEP Reading Consensus Project: 1992 NAEP Reading Assessment. Both of these documents contain a level of detail sufficient to provide a strong basis for identifying standards in the areas of writing and reading. The reference document identified for the area of listening and speaking was the standards framework developed by the Australian Education Council, English: A Curriculum Profile for Australian Schools (Australian Education Council, 1994). Although listening and speaking were addressed to some extent within other sources (e.g., the New Standards Project), the Australian Framework was deemed the most comprehensive treatment of this area.

For the area of viewing and media, no single document was considered comprehensive enough to serve as a reference document. Instead, descriptions of knowledge and skill in this area were developed from an analysis of the set of documents identified above. While journal articles did not identify content at grade specific levels, they were nonetheless useful for the clarification of ideas expressed in the benchmarks, primarily by the use of examples.

Any benchmark that addresses language arts content that was also identified as important in the McREL study of top standards documents has been so identified by an asterisk at the end of the citation log, which appears just above and to the right of the benchmark.