The push-back against the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that’s been mounted in recent weeks is complicating the way forward for trade and school publishers working to align their content to new guidelines taking effect across the U.S. According to experts who joined Digital Book World today to discuss methods for adapting, the fraught political climate shouldn’t stymie publishers’ efforts.
With South Carolina and Oklahoma joining Indiana in dropping out of the Common Core amid intensifying political opposition, and the Gates Foundation calling this week for a two-year delay in implementing CCSS-based teacher assessments, the future of the new K-12 standards looks imperiled.
But Luyen Chou, senior vice president of product strategy at Pearson, said publishers working to deliver content suited to the new standards should “think of the Common Core as a brand.” The alternative measures being developed by states declining to adopt the Common Core in their K-12 classrooms still closely resemble it in substance. Whatever happens with CCSS nationwide, Chou predicts their underlying principles are here to stay.
Cheryl Dickemper, collection development manager at Booksource joined Chou in today’s discussion led by Neal Goff, founder of Egremont Associates, about ways for publishers to proceed in spite of that uncertainty. Here are few of their recommendations:
Look closely at assessments. Critics of the Common Core (and the school reform movement in general) claim an overemphasis on standardized testing diminishes the quality of instruction. For better or worse, Chou said, CCSS is likely to continue encouraging many teachers to “teach to a test”–and not just the high-stakes assessments measuring students’ progress and teachers’ effectiveness, but lower-stakes tests and “readiness” materials will need to be developed, too, as the standards take effect.
“Level” content appropriately. According to Dickemper, some publishers are hiring third-party marketers to align their titles to Common Core specifications after they’re published. Those efforts can be expensive and often come too late in the game to make a serious impact on adoptions, she said. Instead, publishers can develop and label content in accordance with “text complexity” levels that are likely to remain critical guides for schools and teachers purchasing materials, even in states where the Common Core standards are not in place. And since teachers often learn about texts from librarians, for example, it can be as simple for publishers as soliciting knowledgeable reviewers to help “level” their titles.
Focus on cross-curricular nonfiction. Particularly at the middle school level, Chou said, CCSS places a new emphasis on developing reading skills for nonfiction. That’s driving demand for persuasive texts (both informational and literary), texts narrated from multiple points of view and texts that can be applied in cross-disciplinary ways. Dickemper mentioned social studies “texts covering a time period told from different points of view” as an example of one such opportunity.
Experiment with bundling. Goff and Chou both pointed out that the Common Core is not a curriculum. The flexibility it affords instructors to choose the content they use to satisfy its specifications offers publishers similarly broad opportunities. That means marketing back-list content with new titles as well as pairing nonfiction and fiction titles by topic, approach or structure. Dickemper added that there’s nothing to prevent publishers from offering their own complementary resources to works by other publishers, since CCSS’s unit-based approach to reading emphasizes relationships between an “anchor” text and supplementary texts from different genres.
Metadata, metadata, metadata. The one refrain publishers in every market just can’t seem to escape–and shouldn’t want to. Among the biggest factors helping teachers and districts discover content is properly calibrated keywords making relevant titles searchable. So far, ONIX feeds don’t include CCSS-aligned metadata categories, so it’s up to publishers to experiment with the tags that (literally) speak educators’ language. The messy early stages of the Common Core’s rollout leave plenty of time for trial and error.