I came across this great article from University of Arkansas professor Sandra Stotsky on the Common Core English Language Arts standards. She really hits on something I have been struggling with in figuring out how to approach with my middle school students. While some of my advanced students will probably be able to eventually grasp the writing expectations, the bulk of the students, I would argue 50-75% of them, will never quite get there. The writing standards are set ridiculously high with regards to the cognitive ability of the average middle school student.
At first glance the standards don’t leap out as a problem. Take, for example, Common Core’s first writing standard for grades six, seven and eight (almost identical across grades): “Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.” This goal undoubtedly sounds reasonable to adults, who have a much better idea of what “claims” are, what “relevant evidence” is and even what an academic “argument” is. But most children have a limited understanding of this meta-language for the structure of a composition.
So I explored Common Core’s standards for reading informational text in grades three, four and five (and then in grades six, seven and eight) and discovered nothing on what a claim or an argument is, or on distinguishing relevant from irrelevant evidence. In other words, the grades six, seven and eight writing standards are not coordinated with reading standards in grades three to eight that would require children to read the genre of writing their middle-school teachers are expecting them to compose. Middle-school teachers are being compelled by their grade-level standards to ask their students to do something for which the students will have to use their imaginations.
The whole article is very much worth your time: Common Core Standards: Which Way for Indiana