Sample assessment items related to Common Core writing that are now available put students in a difficult position. If you are an expert writer, you understand the difficulty presented by a task that requires cross-textual analysis. You understand the potential pitfalls of guessing exactly what is to be examined in the multiple texts and how that examination will be accepted by the reader.
Samples of Common Core performance tasks for students in Grade 4 require students to read a poem and an excerpt from a story. The task is to compare the actions of the subjects in the two pieces using evidence from the texts. Even a student in Grade 10 would wonder exactly what it means to only compare two subjects. Some teachers would argue that comparison is only looking at those features that are alike and not to point out features that are different. Others would argue that comparing inherently requires contrasting. So where does that leave the Grade 4 writer? Who has defined “comparison” clearly and how will the work be assessed if the reader has a different interpretation of the task than the writer does?
What will become of the current rubric against which this writing is expected to be assessed after piloting the items with real students in real classrooms? Looking at the expectations which are actually written by adults, there is room for a fair amount of criticism. Teachers need to find the continuum of skills and determine how to move students forward in their writing development. Using an adult “guesstimate” of Grade 4 writing can be dangerous. Using student writing collected across a large sample size is the only way to know if we are working with reasonable, yet rigorous, demands for student work.