Sacramento, CA: California Department of Education.
By Dr. Patrick Groff,
Professor of Education Emeritus, San Diego State University
The California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTP) was created to "facilitate the induction of beginning teachers into their professional roles" in that state. The CSTP is said to be "an integral part of the State's efforts to foster excellence in teaching and learning."
Despite its proclamation of that noble goal, the document then humbly avers that it is not a set of "regulations" for novice teachers' behavior. Instead, it serves the more modest role of merely a "guide" for these neophytes, to help them "define and develop their practice." Shortly after making this point, however, the CSTP proclaims that the standards it lists are "clear and realistic," as well as "based on current research and expert advice."
These standards "describe best teaching practices at an accomplished level," CSTP then proudly asserts. Consequently, the CSTP's implication that first-year teachers somehow can improve on its content appears to be a false flattery of them, for some undetermined reason.
The CSTP is critiqued here from the special perspective of the NRRF. Its goal is to improve the quality of reading instruction in the nation by urging it to conform to relevant experimental research findings. This critique thus attempts to answer the question, What is the CSTP's actual impact on effective reading teaching? This is a practical way to examine the CSTP, since students' learning to read competently has an immense effect on their acquisition of other academic abilities and skills.
It immediately is clear that some of the "research" of which the CSTP approves is not of the experimental variety. For example, the document supports the idea that each child by school-entry age has acquired or inherited a unique "learning style" which must be matched by appropriate teaching. This notion has come under severe critical attack for not being corroborated by empirical evidence.
Reading instruction is not a practice "in which a single approach to professional practice will be effective," the CSTP continues. To the contrary, experimental findings consistently make evident that direct, systematic, intensive, comprehensive, and early development of students' phonics skills is the single best way to foster their quick and accurate (automatic) written word recognition ability. Almost no other factor relates more closely to children's reading comprehension than does their automatic word identification skills.
Despite this shaky start, the CSTP does go on to proffer several acceptable generalizations about effective reading pedagogy. For example, it urges reading teachers to never be satisfied about their "expertise, capabilities, and accomplishments." Left to the beginning teachers' devices, however, is how to decide what is the best source of information on instruction for them to "actively seek." The CSTP should have made clear in this respect that experimental evidence is the most reliable. The advice that these teachers should engage in "advanced study" is pointless unless the object of the study is clearly defined.
The CSTP divides its list of standards into six different categories. These have to do with (1) engaging students, (2) creating teaching environments, (3) organizing subject matter, (4) planning instruction, (5) assessing student learning, and (6) teachers' professional "growth." It is gratifying to report that many of the standards so listed are at least pertinent to reading instruction, if not definitive about its practice. On the other hand, some standards unfortunately are a hazard to the success of that enterprise.
For example, in category 1, the CSTP falsely maintains that individual students have "diverse needs" in learning to read, and use "different ways" to do so. The established empirical truth is that all children need to gain the same skills in order to read competently. Then, the unproved nature of the learning styles theory was referred to earlier. There is no convincing evidence that giving students "autonomy and choice" as to what they personally need to learn to read has exceptional merit.
In category 2, the CSTP wrongly insists that "encouraging students to take risks and be creative" when identifying written words promotes "fairness and respect" for students, and "facilitates development of their self-esteem." To the contrary, students' habits of guessing at a word's identity when reading handicaps their reading comprehension development. It is students' ability to recognize words quickly and accurately that truly builds their self-esteem.
In category 3, the CSTP recommends that the novice teacher employ "a repertoire of instructional strategies" when conducting reading lessons. The advice must be rejected for at least two reasons: (a) it is impossible for most newcomers to teaching to follow it, and (b) experimental research reveals that direct, systematic, comprehensive, and intensive instruction of a hierarchy of prearranged reading skills develops students' reading ability better than does a varying mass of instructional practices utilized randomly on the spur of the moment.
Category 4 of the CSTP repeats the unfortunate "repertoire of instructional strategies" advice given earlier. This misjudgment mars an otherwise acceptable list of standards. Lamentably, they are immeasurable in terms of teacher performance.
Category 5 of the CSTP raises the sensitive issue, should teachers' versions as to how well students are learning to read be held in higher regard in judging this matter, than students' scores on standardized reading tests? The document ducks dealing with the issue specifically, falling back on statements such as, teachers should make sure reading "grades are based on multiple sources of information," including standardized tests.
It is obvious, however, that none of the standards listed in this category can be interpreted meaningfully without an exact designation of the respective roles that teachers and objective tests have in determining roles that teachers and objective tests have in determining precisely how well students read. For example, the standard that teachers should "collect, select, and reflect upon evidence of student learning," has no utility unless it indicates exactly what must be done to resolve the common dilemma that occurs when teachers' judgments of students' reading ability are much higher than are their standardized test scores.
In its category 6, the CSTP lists standards relating to teachers personal responsibility to improve their "professional practice." Regrettably, all standards in this regard are hopelessly vague, quantitatively indeterminate, and thus impossible to measure as to whether a teacher has made progress toward meeting their demands. For example, since there are no norms of accomplishment indicated, a teacher could not say with any certitude whether he/she has "maintained an attitude of lifelong learning," or "values and respects students' families" (as if that always is a desirable practice), or has "expanded his/her knowledge of new instructional methods" (again, a dubious goal, since many pedagogical innovations are not experimentally verified).
In general, the CSTP exhibits the same kind of weaknesses and shortcomings that plague other standards documents concocted by state agencies, commissions, boards, or departments. These documents suffer similar disfigurations from being designed by a group of experts and advisors whose appointments by state agencies for this service are not open to critical review.
Under the guise of gaining a sample of expert and public opinion on an educational issue (such as teaching standards) a government body will appoint an advisory group whose conclusions predictably will closely match the agency's previously-held views. As a result, educational standards produced in this manner tend to be politically correct, to be unrepresentative of what parents and the general public expect of public education, and to be stated in imprecise, innocuous, misleading, and thus nonfunctional terms.
Dr. Patrick Groff, Professor of Education Emeritus, San Diego State University, has published over 325 books, monographs, and journal articles and is a nationally known expert in the field of reading instruction.
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