Texas English Standards Underwhelm

High School Girl Thinking
Allison Shelley, The Verbatim Agency, EDUimages

The new TEKS are more abstract than the old TEKS created in 2009 which they replaced. The jargon in the new Texas standards creates an aura of impenetrability. Personally, I have not heard any educator comment on the standards. The paper-thin intellectual veneer intimidates anyone from asking questions, lest they be suspected of not understanding such a profound document.

For example, take standard Eng III.4.C:

Comprehension skills: listening, speaking, reading, writing, and thinking using multiple texts. The student uses metacognitive skills to both develop and deepen comprehension of increasingly complex texts.

The TEKS standard goes on to lay out many examples of metacognitive skills which purportedly assist students’ comprehension, such as “establishing purpose for reading assigned and self-selected text,” “generate questions,” and “monitor comprehension.” 

While such skills are ideal in theory, educators hold exaggerated ideas about the efficacy of such metacognitive strategies. There is little evidence to support such an emphasis. As education author Natalie Wexler notes in The Knowledge Gap, focusing on metacognitive skills can actually make reading “more frustrating,” (90), making reading a laborious process of introspection rather than something natural and enjoyable. The relative benefits of metacognition are also disputed by cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, who describes the inculcating of metacognitive skills as having a “modest benefit,” with diminishing returns as a student reaches high school.

Contrast this with the Common Core standards, now used in 41 states. The English Language Arts Common Core standards for reading state nothing about these metacognitive strategies, but instead focus on having students understand what a text actually says:

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

It may seem self-evident that this is what we should be doing in English. But this represents a push back from the trend of the “personal response” or “reader response” to texts. The reader response model uses prompts such as, “This story made me feel…” or “This story reminds me of…” Sure enough, the TEKS call for students to “make connections to personal experiences” in a text. We know the pitfalls of this approach from experience.

The Common Core is much more concise than the TEKS; it is not written as though the authors are trying to impress readers with its dense prose. It describes its standards “clear, understandable, and consistent.”

Both the Texas standards and the Common Core include vocabulary, but the TEKS eliminated many aspects of vocabulary from their 2009 iteration, such as analyzing word analogies and using foreign language cognates to identify word meanings. Why would they take that away?

Shockingly, the word “grammar” does not appear in the English I, II, III, or IV Texas standards. Meanwhile, the Common Core unapologetically states that students should, “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.” If an English teacher in Texas is teaching his or her students about grammar (parts of speech, clauses, etc.), that teacher is going rogue and is out of step with the Texas Education Agency.

If Texas students wished to obtain grammatical knowledge, they would have to research it independently. The Common Core appendix notes, “Grammatical knowledge can also aid reading comprehension and interpretation. Researchers recommend that students be taught to use knowledge of grammar and usage, as well as knowledge of vocabulary, to comprehend complex academic texts.”

Are the TEKS authors not aware of this research?

In the TEKS, it is merely hoped that students will edit their writing for “command of the standard English conventions,” (Eng III 9.D) while failing to prescribe that a teacher explains what exactly those conventions are. How can we expect students to spontaneously edit themselves without being taught the conventions by…a teacher?

The English TEKS fail in their lack of clarity, and they omit the most basic elements of what it means to teach English. The relevant stakeholders need to reevaluate these poorly constructed “standards” as soon as possible.

Michael Machera
Michael Machera is a writer and teacher living in Dallas, TX.  He blogs at http://www.michaelmacherablog.com. 

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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