Friday, June 27, 2014

8 Suggestions for Reviewing Your ELA Curriculum

I have received a lot of questions lately about how to best prepare our students for the PARCC assessments. While it is imperative that we prepare students to navigate the online testing platform, there really is no "test prep" for the new assessments, no Buckle Down Ohio books, and no silver bullets. 

Test prep will begin on the first day of school through your use of reading and writing best practices, your use of formative instruction to inform and guide your instruction, and your alignment to the Common Core standards.

As you and your colleagues begin to reflect on this school year and make curricular decisions for next year, I might suggest the following steps:

1.  Continue to deconstruct the standards. I know, I know you are tired of doing this, but it is critical that everyone is interpreting the standards in the intended ways, and that we are teaching them with fidelity.  The reading standards especially are very in depth, and personally, every time I reread them, I notice something that I failed to notice in earlier readings. I might also suggest reviewing your learning targets and thinking of how they might be a more effective learning and communication tool for students and parents.

2.  Review the text complexity formula and rubrics.  Teams should continue to review their class texts.  Are we offering students opportunities to read at their independent level and do students have any student choice and ownership?  Are students reading texts at their instructional level with the necessary independence and scaffolding to support their reading growth?  Are we also exposing students to those complex, challenging texts that may be at their frustration level, supporting them with all of the scaffolding strategies in our toolbox? I might suggest reviewing the CCSS Appendix B ( and the texts used in the PARCC practice tests as models of grade-level complexity.

3.  Review the texts that students are reading?  Is it a balanced diet of fiction and nonfiction?  Are students reading poetry, shorter and longer texts, older and newer texts?  Are they reading the required (RL 10-11.7 Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist.) and some of the suggested texts (RI 9-10.9Washington's Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt's Four Freedoms speech, King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail") referenced in the CCSS?

4.  Review the PARCC PCR (Prose Constructed Response) prompts and use them as models for your classroom writings.  The PARCC prompts are very different from our OGT prompts, and students will need support in unpacking the prompts, and then responding to them effectively.  Please see for a great example of a typical past prompt in comparison with a PARCC prompt.  This might lead to a rich discussion among your team about how we may need to revise our writing instruction.

5.  Review your current assessments, and consider how you might tweak them to reflect the PARCC testing design.  For example, can you add a Part B type of question which requires the students to provide evidence of their answer to your original question.  Remember, the PART B questions are usually addressing RL and RI 1 and 2, and are asking the students to prove their answers to the Part A questions. Another example would be for students to evaluate or synthesize multiple sources.

6.  What is the daily role of writing in your classroom?  Students are hopefully writing every day for various purposes.  There are over 40 different writing forms that students may be asked to create on the PARCC assessments. While it would be great to expose students to all 40 of these writing forms, we simply do not have the time to prepare students to address all of these.  We really need to concentrate on helping them to address the topic, audience and purpose (tap) of each PCR prompt, remembering that it is all about students' application of the standards. The 40 writing forms can be found at The PARCC writing rubric can be found at

7.  Continue to review the online PARCC PBA practice tests (  When reviewing the tests, pay attention to the texts, the complexity of the texts, the question design, the PCR prompts, and the skills students will need to navigate the online testing platform.  The online practice tests always begin with a literary analysis task, then provide a research simulation task, and then end with a narrative task. Remember though that students will complete the 3 tasks in 3 different testing sessions. Practice tests for the EOY assessments will be coming in the fall.

8.  When reviewing your curriculum, be sure that it is driven by the standards, and not the books students are reading in class.  Classroom books and texts are the tools or vehicles we use to teach the standards.  When creating pre and post assessments, are you assessing the standards taught in the unit, or the book?  When designing your assessments, choose texts that the students have not been assigned in class so that you are truly assessing their literacy skills, and not their understanding of a book.  Your assessment questions over classroom readings are perfect as formative assessments to check students' understanding and skills throughout the reading of the text.

I hope this list is somewhat helpful as you reflect on your year.  I know how hard everyone is working, and I hope you all have a relaxing and rejuvenating summer vacation! 

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