The International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English are pleased to present these standards for the English language arts. This document is the result of an intensive four-year project involving thousands of educators, researchers, parents, policymakers, and others across the country. Our shared purpose is to ensure that all students are knowledgeable and proficient users of language so that they may succeed in school, participate in our democracy as informed citizens, find challenging and rewarding work, appreciate and contribute to our culture, and pursue their own goals and interests as independent learners throughout their lives.
The English Language Arts Standards Project is one of many efforts undertaken in recent years to define outcomes or goals for various school subjects. The project was first proposed in an August 1991 letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander from Judith Thelen, then president of the International Reading Association (IRA), and Shirley Haley-James, then president of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). If the federal government were to fund a voluntary standards project in English, then IRA and NCTE wanted to be involved. Our officers and committees believed—and still believe—that English language arts standards must be grounded in what we know about language and language learning. If the standards do not have this very important foundation, then they could undermine our nation's commitment to educating all students, to emerging conceptions of literacy, and to publicly funded schools. The standards presented here grew out of current research and theory about how students learn—in particular, how they learn language.
In the fall of 1992, the U.S. Department of Education awarded a grant for the Standards Project for the English Language Arts to educators at the Center for the Study of Reading at the University of Illinois with the agreement that the Center would work closely with IRA and NCTE to develop the standards. Federal involvement ended in 1994, and from that time until the present the project has been funded solely by IRA and NCTE.
Two principles endorsed by the National Academy of Education (McLaughlin and Shepard 1995, p. xviii) have been central to our work:
Because there is not one best way to organize subject matter in a given field of study, rigorous national standards should not be restricted to one set of standards per subject area.
Content standards should embody a coherent, professionally defensible conception of how a field can be framed for purposes of instruction. They should not be an exhaustive, incoherent compendium of every group's desired content.
From its inception, the English Language Arts Standards Project has been field-based. A guiding belief has been that the process of defining standards must be an open, inclusive one. As a result, thousands of K–12 classroom teachers have been involved in writing, reviewing, and revising the many successive drafts of this document and have guided its development every step of the way over the last three-and-a-half years. Hundreds of parents, legislative leaders, administrators, researchers, and policy analysts in English language arts have played critical roles at each stage of the project. (Appendix A lists participants in the process.)
In generating this document, we have sought to reflect the many different voices, interests, and concerns of these diverse contributors. While we recognize that no single publication, no single set of standards, can satisfy all interests and concerns, we fervently hope that this work captures the essential goals of English language arts instruction at the turn of the century in the United States of America. Most important, we hope that it offers a coherent vision for the future, complementing other current efforts to define performance standards, opportunity-to-learn standards, and assessment standards not only in the English language arts but in other school subject areas as well. Many states and local districts are already using these standards in their deliberations, and we have benefited from the responses of language arts coordinators in every state.
The publication of this document represents not only the end of one process, that of defining the standards, but also the beginning of a new one—that of translating them into practice in classrooms across the country. The conversation about English language arts standards must and will continue. To that end, we are enclosing a response form at the end of this document. We invite you—in fact, we urge you—to tell us what you think about our vision of the English language arts curriculum.
We extend our deepest thanks to the thousands of individuals who have participated in the standards project to date. Thank you for contributing your voices to this important national conversation. We also wish to thank the College Board and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for their funding of the project at the beginning of the journey.
Alan E. Farstrup, International Reading Association
Miles Myers, National Council of Teachers of English
McLaughlin, M. W., & Shepard, L. A., with O'Day, J. A. (1995). Improving education through standards-based reform: A report by the National Academy of Education Panel on Standards-Based Education Reform. Stanford, CA: National Academy of Education.
In Standards for the English Language Arts (pp. v-vi). , : International Reading Association and National Council of Teachers of English.