Revisiting the Standards: What they Are Not

Photo Credit: holohololand at

Photo Credit: holohololand at

For the first time in my career, I am required to turn in detailed typed daily lessons each week, and they are reviewed each week in detail by an administrator and academic coach. Catch me on a cranky day, and you will be able to hear my rant about that, but for now I will behave. It is something I have to do, just not something most high school teachers are used to having to do.

At the top of each lesson, I am required to include a reference to the standard addressed by the lesson. Every lesson must be linked to the standards. Really, teaching to the standards is a given for all teachers by now, at least in states that have not rejected the common core.

I appreciate the standards. I don’t really trust the methods by which they were produced, but the standards provide a good essential framework for student achievement.

However, I have noticed that there are discrepancies between the National Board standards for my area (Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts) and the Common Core standards (or, in Arizona, the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards). For instance, there is no emphasis at the high school level on analyzing visual text unless I interpret “argument” or “text” as visual text or use visual texts to scaffold students toward analyzing written arguments or literature.

As a high school English teacher, I feel great pressure to prepare students in the standards. Although Arizona is in the middle of changing their standardized tests, the one thing I can depend on is that the tests will measure the ELA standards and that tenth grade will be a key year.

Bottom Line: I open the standards document multiple times per week.

A few weeks back I was scrolling through the front matter to get to the standards and came upon the section titled “What is Not Covered by the Standards,” page vii in the Arizona High School (9-12) English Language Arts standards (AZCCRS.) I found this section encouraging, especially the statements that “The aim of the Standards is to articulate the fundamentals, not to set out an exhaustive list or a set of restrictions that limits what can be taught” and “Students require a wide-ranging, rigorous academic preparation and, particularly in the early grades, attention to such matters as social, emotional, and physical development and approaches to learning.” The Standards also remind us that while they articulate learning, the standards are “not how teachers should teach.” And it is up to us at the district and site level to determine a “well-developed, content-rich curriculum” that is “consistent with” the standards.

I encourage all educators, parents and policy makers to revisit the Common Core in its entirety. While I often use the bookmarks in my .pdf to find standards in the document, by re-reading what can sometimes be perceived as extraneous material I realize that the more we see the standards for what they are, the more we are empowered to hold on to creative and individualized approaches to the standards in our local contexts.

In fact, re-discovering page vii of the standards makes me wonder if, in reality, there should be days where the box labeled “Standards” in my lesson plan template should remain blank.


Amethyst Hinton Sainz

I currently teach English Language Development at Rhodes Junior High in Mesa Public Schools. I love seeing the incredible growth in my students and being an advocate for them. I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts. Before this position I taught high school English in Arizona for 20 years.

My alma maters are Blue Ridge High School and the University of Arizona. My bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy led me toward the College of Education, and I soon realized that the creative challenges of teaching would fuel me throughout my career. My love of language, literature and culture led me to the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College for my masters in English Literature. I am a fellow with the Southern Arizona Writing Project, and that professional development along with, later, the National Board process, has been the most influential and transformative learning for me. I enjoy teaching students across the spectrum of academic ability, and keeping up with new possibilities for technology in education, as well as exploring more topics in STEM.

In recent years, much of my professional development has focused on teacher leadership, but I feel like I am still searching for exactly what that means for me.

I live in Mesa, Arizona with my family. I enjoy them, as well as my vegetable garden, our backyard chickens, our dachshund Roxy, reading, writing, cooking (but not doing dishes), hiking and camping, and travel, among other things.

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