Skip to main content

Unpacking and Assessing ELA

Key Aspects of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English/language arts (ELA)

In these documents, the writers of the CCSS outline criteria for developers of textbook and other instructional materials to consider as they work to align materials with the CCSS. The authors highlight key elements of the ELA standards and outline implications for aligning curricula and other materials with the CCSS. For grades 3-12 (as outlined in the first document), the criteria emphasize that instruction in reading, writing, listening, and speaking should be centered on adequately complex texts from which students are expected to acquire knowledge. For the younger grades (as outlined in the second document), the CCSS require a focus on learning to read and instilling in students the expectation that the point of reading is to increase understanding.

**Coleman, D. & Pimentel, S. (2011, June 3). Publisher’s criteria for the Common Core State Standards in ELA & Literacy, grades 3-12. n.p. Available at

Coleman, D. & Pimentel, S. (2011, June 3). Considerations for kindergarten through second grade curriculum materials to achieve alignment with the Common Core State Standards. n.p. Available at

Text Complexity in the CCSS

The CCSS for ELA and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects emphasize the importance of steadily increasing complexity of texts as students progress through school, such that they are prepared to read college and workforce-level texts upon leaving high school. This excerpt from Appendix A of the CCSS for ELA underscores the significance of text complexity and the consequences of low reading levels. The authors present a model for measuring text complexity, discuss considerations for implementation of text complexity, and provide annotated sample texts to show how the appropriateness of texts for particular grade levels can be assessed. The additional two documents provide a framework for assessing the grade level appropriateness of texts using a qualitative measurement.

**Common Core State Standards Initiative. (n.d.). Common Core Standards for English language arts & literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects, Appendix A: Research supporting key elements of the standards. Washington, DC: Author. (pp. 1-16). Available at

Qualitative Features of Text Complexity Explained: Companion to the Qualitative Dimensions Scale [Handout] 

Qualitative Dimensions of Text Complexity Chart [Handout]

Text-Dependent Questions

The CCSS call for literacy instruction centered on complex texts worthy of close reading and analysis. Rigorous, text dependent questions that can only be answered with a careful examination of the text and use of textual evidence to support responses are thus a central component of instruction aligned to the CCSS in ELA. This annotated teaching example outlines a lesson using a short text about the significance of the first three words of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. The document provides suggestions for how vocabulary in the text can be taught and re-enforced, examples of text dependent questions for use with the sample text and ideas for follow-up assignments that can be used by teachers to obtain formative information on student’s understanding.

Student Achievement Partners. (n.d.) Common Core Standards annotated teaching sample for complex text.Author.

Materials from Literacy Design Collaborative Districts and Organizations

The Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) is a group of expert practitioners, teachers, school leaders, and district and state officials working to improve secondary literacy. With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the LDC has developed a framework for implementing the CCSS mandate that literacy be central to instruction in the core subjects of ELA, social studies, and science. These materials provide an overview of the LDC framework and give examples of the related tasks, resources, and tools available to practitioners through the project. Among the practitioners currently piloting the model are New Visions for Public Schools, working within the New York City school system, and the National Writing Project, Paideia, at the University of North Carolina. We have included samples of their work to illustrate use of LDC template tasks.

Literacy Design Collaborative. (2010, October 13). The literacy design collaborative framework: A support document for leaders. Author. Available at

Literacy Design Collaborative. (n.d.) Five steps to module creation and completion. Author. Available at

Literacy Design Collaborative. (n.d.) Template tasks v.1. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Available at

New Visions for Public Schools. (2011). New Visions – Chosen LDC template tasks – Spring 2011. New York, NY: Author. 

New Visions for Public Schools. (n.d.) Common Core State Standard pilots in New Visions schools. Author. [Handout]

Anderson, R., Freeman, A., Hedt, M., Marsh, N. The individual and the community: My responsibilities in a time of crisis. Chapel Hill, NC: The National Paideia Center and Paideia Schools. Available at

**This document is considered a priority reading.