Comparing the Common Core and Reading First

  • Common Core State Standards
  • 02 June, 2011

Sorry about not posting for a while. I've been particularly busy, and even worked in a vacation. But my eye is back on the ball and I hope I have something of interest for you.

  Recently, I received a letter: “I am writing to you because members of our state’s Department of Education believe that there is no alignment between the Common Core Standards and Reading First. Do you know of any document that aligns these two approaches for the early grades?” Clearly, the writer is concerned that the gains and improvements made through Reading First may be lost as attention shifts to the new common core, a fair point.

  Unfortunately, I am not aware of any document that provides such a comparison, so I wrote my own. And here it is:

  There are continuities, contrasts, and clear disagreements across the federally-supported Reading First (RF) effort and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I have tried to detail these below.

 Continuities. Both CCSS and RF require(d) the teaching of:

1) Phonological awareness in K-1;

2) Phonics in K-3;

3) Oral reading fluency in grades 1-3;

4) Vocabulary (word meaning) K-3.

  Anyone who may have anticipated a retreat from the curricular focus of Reading First will likely be disappointed. The key pillars of RF are still intact — now in the form of specific curricular goals that are to be accomplished at particular grade levels.

Discontinuities. But there are several key differences between CCSS and RF as well.

1) RF required the teaching of reading comprehension strategies; CCSS, on the other hand, does not require such teaching and emphasizes greater attention to the meaning of texts (in other words, less strategy teaching and more focus on the text content).

2) RF required that the approaches used to teach reading be proven to work through research; CCSS is, generally, silent about HOW the teaching is to proceed (instruction is treated as a matter of state/local/individual choice).

3) RF required the adoption of a core program (CCSS is silent as to how to teach or what materials to use).

4) RF required the use of screening and monitoring tests, particularly with regard to phonological awareness, phonics, and fluency, while CCSS is silent about the use of such assessments (though they encourage formative testing of reading comprehension with older kids—3rd grade and up).

5) RF required that interventions be available for children who were not making sufficient learning progress; CCSS is silent on that issue.

6) RF required extensive professional development for teachers and principals (through various state and local mechanisms, including reading coaches); CCSS is silent on the value of professional development of any kind.

7) RF was silent about the difficulty of the text that children were to work with; CCSS is quite prescriptive about the readability levels of the texts that teachers must use.

8) RF was silent about the content of the texts that children were to read; CCSS is somewhat prescriptive in encouraging greater attention to canonical literature and the classics, and to the inclusion of informational text.

9) RF was silent about technology, while CCSS requires that students be taught to use technology.

10) RF only focused on reading, but required teachers/schools to follow their state’s English language arts requirements (for writing, spelling, oral language, etc.), while CCSS specifies instructional goals for these other areas of language teaching.

  Given these differences, it could mean that, under the common core, a state/district/teacher could simply do their own thing, and stop paying attention to the research, stop monitoring student learning, stop offering professional development for teachers and principals, stop using core materials, and stop their intervention programs… Although these items were required under RF, they clearly are not being emphasized in CCSS.

  However, there are some pretty good reasons not to retreat from those RF staples:

a). CCSS may not have many implementation requirements, but that doesn’t mean such requirements are gone. Both IDEA and Title I funding, for example, require several of these items be address including research-based teaching and formative assessment.

b). There is going to be increased pressure to succeed and several of the RF requirements tend to help schools to succeed. States and schools are now going to be compared on the same metrics going forward, which means that there will be even greater accountability pressure on teachers, principals, state superintendents, and now even on the governors themselves (letting everybody do their own thing, no matter how greatly such practices may deviate from research findings may not be something that those being evaluated will be willing to accept.

c). Most state data showed Reading First was supporting better reading achievement for the kids served, so why not build on existing knowledge and tools already available rather than starting all over again?


See what others have to say about this topic.

Dr. Kathleen Doyle Jul 02, 2017 12:11 AM


As someone who has worked with many previous Reading First schools in Illinois, I was so glad to read your post. Your final comments were so critical that I made sure I passed this post on to all the principals and coaches who are continuing with the tenets of Reading First.

Chrissy Jul 02, 2017 12:11 AM


I find this comparison confusing? I teach in Missouri, where we previously taught the Missouri Grade Level Expectations (aka GLE's). We have since adopted the Common Core curriculum and schools throughout the state are gradually making this transition. My district used the Reading First program under the GLE system, and we continue to use it under the CCSS. We had to adapt our core curriculum to meet the GLE's, and we have now adapted that same core curriculum to meet the CCSS. Personally, I have found that my students have been more successful with RF with the CCSS adaptations. I have never understood RF to be the main source for curricular content, especially since any core curriculum chosen by the district was acceptable under the RF guidelines. Aside from the Dibels assessments we utilized for data, I have always understood RF to be mainly a format and process for classroom and time management during reading instruction. In all seriousness, comparing Common Core to Reading First makes as much sense to me as someone choosing Ramen noodles over lobster (my very favorite food in the whole world) for dinner. If I know I am going to eat dinner at 5:00, and that I can choose Ramen noodles or lobster to eat at that time, why in the world wouldn't I choose lobster? Here is why I say this...

The Common Core was fully implemented during the 2012-2013 school year in my building and the general feeling among teachers and students was positive. This is a pleasant surprise, considering curricular changes have been met with animosity in the past. Overall, we (teachers) feel like the Common Core makes a lot more sense. One teacher noted that she had a child move in from another school in a different state. This child's school had also fully implemented Common Core this year and the student, the parents, and the teacher all noticed the ease of the transition. In addition, with the increased emphasis on writing under CCSS, my kindergarten students were writing at a much more advanced level than was happening previously under the Missouri GLE's. I feel the required content is now more concise, allowing us time to dig deeper into broader topics, rather than cramming in a large amount of content into a single school year. The children have more time to process and internalize what they are learning. By gaining a deeper understanding of the content as early as kindergarten, teachers in the future grades should not have to spend as much time reteaching, allowing them more time to move on to more complex tasks. As long as teachers embrace the curricular changes associated with Common Core, students will be better prepared for the rigorous assessments that have caused such a knee jerk reaction by some school officials and teachers who are resisting the changes. The CCSS provides a much more rigorous education than before. It goes deeper into the content and provides more opportunities for hands-on, real world learning and instruction than we have experienced over the past several years...especially since we have been under the unrealistic expectations of the No Child Left Behind Act driven by high stakes testing. Globally, employers want to hire people who can think...problem solvers. Our current assessments under NCLB have forced teachers to teach strictly to the test, and have taught students how to memorize and regurgitate facts, creating a school environment that is not conducive to meaningful learning. For these reasons, I am optimistic that the new rigorous assessments associated with CCSS are a much needed step in the right direction for education.

Timothy Shanahan Jul 02, 2017 12:12 AM


Reading First was more than a management plan (in fact, except for the idea of requiring 90 minutes of daily reading instruction and the use of an approved core program), it had none. RF required the teaching of phonemic awareness, phonics, oral reading fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension strategies. It did not require writing, but teachers were required to follow their state language arts standards, so writing should have still been taught, but not during the 90 minutes. RF provided extensive high quality professional development and the use of a core reading program.

CCSS requires the teaching of phonological awareness, phonics, print awareness, vocabulary, oral reading fluency, but not comprehension strategies (though I would recommend teaching them). CCSS does not set any time requirements for lessons, nor does it require the use of a core reading program (schools can do either or both, but it is not specified by CCSS).

The difference of course is that RF was aimed only at primary grade reading, and CCSS is the K-12 English language arts curriculum. So what is being compared is RF and CCSS in term of reading K-3. For grades K-1, there is very little change between CCSS and your previous curriculum (most of the comprehension items are the same, the text difficulty requirements don't kick in until grade 2, and all of the previous basic skills--PA, phonics, fluency--are all still required.

What Are your thoughts?

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Comparing the Common Core and Reading First


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