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(Over)Simplifying Complexity? Interrogating the Press for More Complex Text


by Lauren Anderson & Jamy Stillman — January 22, 2015

Background: The new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) place a high premium on engaging young people in (complex) academic discourse around complex texts, and having them demonstrate understanding through text-dependent questioning and argumentation. Given the newness of the CCSS, however, little is known, empirically speaking, about their implementation and impact.

Objective: Focusing on how teachers make sense of and mediate CCSS implementation, this comment—like the study on which it reports—builds on the work of policy scholars and responds to calls for research investigating the impact of the new standards on instruction, particularly for diverse learners in the early grades.

Research Design: Findings reported in this comment emerge from a two-year case study of a high-performing, bilingual K-8 school. The study employed qualitative methods to examine interactions among standards-based policy, local school conditions, and the practices of teachers who have a demonstrated record of success in facilitating high achievement among a predominantly English Learner (EL) population and in both traditional (e.g., test scores) and non-traditional (e.g., biliteracy) terms.

Conclusions: The comment offers a data-driven account of challenges that arose as teachers worked to make sense of text complexity and engage young students around more complex, informational texts. In it, we show how even a well-intentioned emphasis on text complexity can run the risk of commandeering significant resources—traditional resources, like common planning and instructional time, and cognitive resources—and undermining, rather than enhancing, the complexity of classroom discourse, ironically itself a named priority in the CCSS. We also speak to the conditions that would be necessary for teachers to mediate standards implementation with more agency.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 22, 2015
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17827, Date Accessed: 10/19/2017 7:06:13 AM

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About the Author
  • Lauren Anderson
    Connecticut College
    E-mail Author
    LAUREN ANDERSON is an assistant professor of education at Connecticut College. Her research interests include teacher educator preparation and pedagogy, pre-service teachers’ learning in and from clinical experiences, equity-minded educators’ navigation of accountability policies and curriculum standards and the application of social network and qualitative methods to the study of educators’ work and careers. Her recent publications have appeared in Review of Educational Research, Language Arts, and Teachers College Record.
  • Jamy Stillman
    University of Southern California, Rossier School of Education
    E-mail Author
    JAMY STILLMAN is an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. Her research interests include the preparation of teachers to serve historically marginalized populations, the impact of high-stakes accountability on teachers, teaching, and learning to teach in urban high-needs schools, and the preparation of teacher educators. Her recent publications have appeared in Review of Educational Research, Language Arts, and Journal of Teacher Education.
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