Feb 6, 2014 by

henry burke

[At the 2.03.14 Nebraska State Board of Education meeting, Henry W. Burke proposed that the Board adopt the exemplary English Success Standards.]


Proposed Nebraska English Standards


by Henry W. Burke





Would Nebraska like to have one of the best English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) Standards in the country?


Would Nebraska be interested if it could obtain this set of ELAR Standards for absolutely no cost?



Nebraska and the National Test Results


In my 12.04.13 report, “National Test Results, Evaluation of Nebraska Standards, and Phonics,” I covered the 2013 NAEP Reading – Grade 4 Assessment Results.  Nebraska was ranked No. 24, based on Average Scale Score.


I was especially troubled by the achievement gap between Whites and Minority students.  For Nebraska, the Average Scale Score for Whites was 229; the Score for Blacks was 202; and the Score for Hispanics was 207.  Therefore, the White-Black achievement gap is 27 points; and the White-Hispanic achievement gap is 22 points.


For Nebraska, the number of students reading Below Basic is quite alarming!  The Results showed 23 % of Whites are reading Below Basic; 52 % of Blacks are Below Basic; and 46 % of Hispanics are Below Basic.  Thus, the White-Black gap is 29 %; and the White-Hispanic gap is 23 %.  I saw similar results for the ACT Assessment.


If we are serious about closing or narrowing these gaps, we must have first-class standards in Nebraska.


I believe curriculum standards should tell teachers what to teach; it is up to the teachers to determine how this will be done.



Nebraska’s Approach to Standards


The Nebraska State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) have stated that they are committed to not adopting the Common Core Standards (CCS) in Nebraska.  This is a good decision.  Nebraskans do not want Common Core Standards in our state.  Because I have addressed the Common Core Standards several times, I will not dwell on CCS in this presentation.


From our discussion with Donlynn Rice of the NDE, I understand that State Standards originate in Donlynn Rice’s office. This is drastically different from Texas, where the SBOE is in charge of the standards process.


I have a different view on state standards than the NDE.  I know that state standards must be detailed and specific; Donlynn Rice favors very broad and general standards.  Presumably, she believes that this gives the local school districts maximum flexibility. The problem is that if the standards are broad, generic, and general, any type of instructional materials will fit.  Nebraska must have the type of academic standards that meet the attributes (as explained below).



Attributes of Good State Standards


Very few state standards are truly exemplary.  As I have previously demonstrated, the Common Core Standards definitely fail to make the grade.  Likewise, the existing Nebraska Language Arts Standards are quite poor.  In my 12.04.13 report to the State Board, I pointed out that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute gave Nebraska’s English Standards a grade of “C” in 2005 and a grade of “F” in 2010!


In order to have excellent state standards, they need to be:


1.  Explicit

2.  Knowledge-based

3.  Academic

4.  Clearly-worded

5.  Grade-level specific

6.  Measurable


If state standards comply with the six criteria listed above, teachers will not have to second-guess the standards writers.  School districts will not need to hire expensive consultants to “interpret” the standards nor to develop curriculum; it will be readily apparent what is required for each and every grade (and course). 


Similarly, the school districts will save money that otherwise would be spent with Educational Service Units (ESU’s).  In Dr. Blomstedt’s former position, he was Executive Director for the Educational Service Unit Coordinating Council.  I feel sure that Dr. Blomstedt wants our school tax money to be spent wisely. 


Because I have written many reports on Common Core implementation costs, I know that cost is a very significant factor.  The four major categories of implementation costs are: Testing, Professional Development (PD), Textbooks (Instructional Materials or IM), and Technology.


  Explicit state standards will save taxpayer dollars and produce better students!


Most importantly, first-class state standards must be Type #1, not Type #2!


Education expert Donna Garner has developed terminology that differentiates between an exemplary, classical education (Type #1) and the project-based, subjectively assessed philosophy of education as exemplified in Common Core Standards (Type #2).  Mrs. Garner has stated:


          Basically Type #1 means the curriculum standards are traditional/knowledge-based/academic, emphasize back-to-the-basics core knowledge and skills that grow in depth and complexity from one grade level to the next, are specific for each grade level (or course), and can be tested largely through objective questions that have right-or-wrong answers.


The following highlights are taken from Donna Garner’s description of Type #1, “2 Types of Education: America Hangs in the Balance.”


 If we want our public school children to learn to read well, we must have Type #1.

If we want them to be able to speak and write English well, then we must have Type #1.

 If we want our public school children to be able to do well in foreign languages, then we must have Type #1 that teaches the phonetic sound system and grammar/usage in English so that they can apply that to their foreign language learning.  

 If we want our public school children to read the great pieces of literature that have connected our country to past generations, then we must have Type #1.

 If we want our public school children to have the skills and knowledge they need for college and/or the workplace, then we must have Type #1.



Proposed Nebraska Standards


In this presentation, I am proposing that the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) and the State Board of Education utilize the “English Success Standards” as the basic framework for the Nebraska English Standards. 


The full English Success Standards document is attached to this reportThere is no cost whatsoever for using this document; it is free for the taking by any state DOE or school district.  The lead author was Donna Garner of Waco, Texas; but many experts collaborated on this project.  It was truly written by teachers, for teachers


Because the English Success Standards document was written by experienced teachers, the standards are easy to understand and implement in the classroom.  The standards are not theoretical; they have been proven through actual classroom experience.  In addition to the classroom teachers, experts like Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Dr. Barbara Foorman participated in the effort.  (Please see the list of Contributors at the end of the document.) 


Also, the authors incorporated the latest elements of reading research.  For example, phonemic awareness is thoroughly covered in the English Success Standards.  The standards even include a section on Intervention Strategies for Phonemic Awareness (designed for students who are behind in phonics).

The English Success Standards (and the Texas TEKS Standards) are the best examples of Type #1 standards in the country!

One of the strongest aspects about the English Success Standards is the sensible, straight-forward way the document is formatted.  In a classroom, there are two entities – the teacher and the student.  In the ESS document, both entities are addressed. On the left side of the page is what the teacher is supposed to teach.  On the right side of the page is what the students are supposed to learn. 



Evaluation of the English Success Standards


As I have done with the Texas ELAR Standards and the Nebraska Language Arts Standards, I will evaluate the English Success Standards (ESS) by various means.



1.  Application of Stotsky’s Academic Rigor Guidelines


First, I will utilize Dr. Sandra Stotsky’s Academic Rigor Guidelines to evaluate the English Success Standards, “9 Signs of Academic Rigor in English Standards (by Sandra Stotsky).”


Item No. 1 in the guideline suggests counting the number of Reading standards and Writing standards.  The results are shown in the following Table:










R + W


Elementary School      
Kindergarten     29     13     42
Grade 1     53     40     93
Grade 2     37     24     61
Grade 3     55     21     76
 Grade 4     42     13     55
Grade 5     34     14     48
Intervention – Phonemic     20       0     20
  S/T — Elementary   270   125   395
Middle School      
Grade 6     37     19     56
Grade 7     41     20     61
Grade 8     30     42     72
  S/T — Middle School   108     81   189
High School      
Grade 9 – English I     36     38     74
Grade 10 – English II     38     34     72
Grade 11 – English III     48     24     72
Grade 12 – English IV     37     24     61
  S/T — High School   159   120   279
  Total — K – 12   537   326   863



From this Table, we can see that the English Success Standards include 537 Reading standards and 326 Writing standards.  Because the English Success Standards include more Reading standards than Writing standards, the English Success Standards are strong.  The English Standards will lead to good classroom curriculum; and good reading should produce good writing.  Research has demonstrated that good readers make good writers; and early writers tend to be early readers.


Item No. 2 in the Stotsky guideline refers to the literary content of the Reading standards at the high school level.  I examined English I, English II, English III, and English IV to see how they fared in content.  All of the Reading standards in those subjects (119) are strong in explicit literary, linguistic, and historical content. 


Likewise, the content at one level leads logically to the content at the next level.  When the English standards follow a logical, cognitive progression, students are better able to retain the knowledge long-term.  The English Success Standards score well on this measure.


For Item No. 3 of the Stotsky Guidelines, I followed the strands or categories across several successively higher grades.  I found that they increase in intellectual demands in clear ways. 


Item No. 4 asks if the imaginary/literary texts are distinguished from the expository/informational texts.  In the literary texts, the students need to understand and make inferences about the author’s imagery and theme.  With the informational texts, the students are asked to summarize, explain, and evaluate the ideas and conclusions.


For example, the English Success Standards for Grade 4 Reading include this information:


            The student is expected to:


            (A)  Define the following terms:  poetry (stanza and line), fiction (novel, short story, plot—beginning, middle, and end), strong beginning and ending, dialogue, moral, and proverb.  


In Grade 8 Reading:


            The student is expected to:


            (H)  Describe the impact of historical and/or cultural influences on the literary selections.


            (I)  Explain how a literary selection can enrich or expand personal views or experiences.


Literary texts are distinguished from informational texts.  In Grade 7 Reading, one standard focuses on informational text:


            The student is expected to:


            (H)  Distinguish fact from opinion in newspapers, magazines, and other print media.


Item No. 5 asks if the standards are expressed in unambiguous, well-written English prose.  The English Success Standards are well-written and avoid the typical education jargon often found in standards. 


Item No. 6 of the Stotsky Guidelines asks if the English standards are sensible and age-appropriate.  I found that the standards are realistic for each grade level.  For example, in Grade 2:


            The student is expected to:


            (A)  Listen to selections (e.g., nursery rhymes, fables, fairy tales, poems, classical literature, rhyming stories, factual stories about notable people, science, and history) which are rich in vocabulary.


Item No. 7 calls for numerous short examples to illustrate what the standard means.  The following examples appear in Kindergarten, under Phonemic Awareness and Spelling: 


            The student is expected to:


            (iii)  Blend segmented phonemes of a word (e.g., b-a-g->bag) into the word.


            (v)  Understand that more than one letter is needed to write some sounds in the English language (e.g., sh, ch, th, zh, ee, oi/oy, au/aw, ou/ow). 


The Stotsky Item No. 7 Guideline also directs the reviewer to look for sample texts that match the difficulty of the particular grade level.  For example, Grade 9 – English I provides this Knowledge and Skill, and the specific task to accomplish this:


      (2) Independent Reading / Assigned Reading / Guided Reading.  The student reads and studies notable literary selections which are rich in vocabulary. 


            The student is expected to:


            (A)  Present brief, comprehensive, narrative summaries of notable literary selections (e.g., “The Lady or the Tiger?” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,”  “My Heart Leaps Up,” “Wind Song,” “Sweet Afton,” “Flower in the Crannied Wall,” “Roughing It,” “The Day the Dam Broke,” Romeo and Juliet, The Odyssey, Great Expectations, Watership Down, Wuthering Heights, And Then There Were None, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” The Last of the Mohicans, The Three Musketeers).


Item No. 8 asks if the Reading standards at one level are coordinated with the Writing standards at the next level.  I found that the English Success Standards do this quite well.  Under Grade 5 Reading, we have this example:


            The student is expected to:


            A)  Read the important literary content by or about famous people.

            B)  Explain the storyline of important literary content about famous people.


Under Grade 6 Writing:


            The student is expected to:


            (7)  Composition.  Using various forms, the student writes for a variety of audiences and for a variety of purposes. 




            Plan a multi-paragraph persuasive composition based upon the theme of American history, past and contemporary. 



In Item No. 9, the guideline asks if the standards cross over into other disciplines.  The English Success Standards are very good in this regard.  For example, an English standard should stick with English and avoid a diatribe on politics or global warming.


After checking the English Success Standards against the nine Dr. Stotsky Guidelines, I find that the Standards are excellent and very rigorousWithout hesitation, I can readily give them an “A.”



2.  Emphasis on Phonemic Awareness


I also examined the English Success Standards to verify that phonemic awareness (phonics) is adequately covered.  The English Success Standards are especially strong in phonemic awareness.  The subject received very thorough treatment in Kindergarten through Grade 3.  After Grade 5, the Standards include an excellent section “Intervention Strategies for Phonemic Awareness.”


Phonics, of course, is the key to producing students who are good readers, writers, and spellers.  Over $90 million of federal NIH (National Institutes of Health) research has proven this conclusively.


Education experts have found that one book is especially good at teaching phonics.  The book is Reading Reflex: The Foolproof Phono-Graphix Method for Teaching Your Child to Read.  The authors are Carmen McGuiness and Geoffrey McGuiness; the book is published by Simon & Schuster.  The paperback version sells for about $7.29 to $18.99 on



3.  English Grammar and Usage


I also verified that English grammar/usage was thoroughly covered in the English Success Standards.  Grammar was given good treatment in all of the grades, even starting in elementary school.  Throughout the K-12 grades, explicit grammar and usage skills are emphasized.  (In many state standards, grammar is inexplicit or else is not present at all.) 


English grammar must be thoroughly understood if we expect to see intelligent, well-written essays and reports from our students.  Of course, effective oral communication also depends upon good grammar skills.


Excellent standards have good scope and sequence; and they must progress logically.  When each concept builds upon what was learned before, the student learns and progresses.  This is called cognitive learning


In Grade 5, the student is learning English grammar and usage.  The standards state:


            (6)  Grammar/Usage.  The student uses correct grammar and syntax in various sentence patterns.

            The student is expected to:

            A)  Use prepositional pairs correctly in sentences (e.g., “between/among).

            (B)  Use correctly the preposition “to,” the infinitive “to,” the adverb “too,” and the adjective “two.”

            C)  Know the principal parts of regular verbs.

            D)  Use regular verbs in the present, past, and future tenses.  

In that same grade (Grade 5), the student utilizes this English grammar in writing a paper.

            (7)  Composition.  Using various forms, the student writes for a variety of audiences and for a variety of purposes.

            The student is expected to:

            (A)  ONE-PARAGRAPH EXPOSITORY — Literary Theme Tied to Composition:  Famous People

            Plan a one-paragraph expository paragraph based upon the theme of famous people. 

In the next grade (Grade 6), the student builds upon what was learned in the previous grade.

            (6)  Grammar/Usage.  The student uses correct grammar and syntax in various sentence patterns.

            (A)  Differentiate between “to” used as a preposition and “to” used as a part of an infinitive.

            B)  Know the principal parts of irregular verbs.

The student immediately applies these grammar and usage skills to write a persuasive paragraph.

            (7)  Composition.  Using various forms, the student writes for a variety of audiences and for a variety of purposes. 

            Literary Theme Tied to Composition:  American History — Past and Contemporary

            The student is expected to:



4.  Preparing Students for College and Careers

The Omaha World-Herald published an article by Joe Dejka on Monday, 1.27.14, “Profs say students must know how — and when — to write at a higher level of formality.”

The article opened with these thoughts:

          Nebraska college professors think the state’s K-12 schools are too simplistic in the way they teach writing.

By the time kids reach college, the professors say, students often can do a good job with a basic five-paragraph essay — a format that they’ve been drilled on for years.

But too often, the professors say, their college students can’t write for multiple purposes and genres — skills that are essential for college and the workforce. Students with only simple writing skills wind up in remedial classes or can’t get jobs after college.

Clearly the college professors are not happy with the graduates from Nebraska’s K-12 system.  If the students have not had strong reading and grammar courses in K-12, they will do poorly in college.  Likewise, Nebraska employers have similar experiences with college graduates; the Nebraska graduates simply cannot write a good document.

Invariably, the public schools promote the writing of personal essays, where the students’ “feelings” are emphasized.  To minimize cheating among students, the high school teacher often assigns this type of personal essay (“What is your opinion?”). 

When the college professor asks the freshman students to write a fact-based paper, the students are lost.  In accordance with their prior training, the students will write “I feel,” “I believe,” and “I think.”  Immediately the professor knows that these students do not know how to write an expository paper nor a cohesive and compelling persuasive  paper either. 

The World-Herald article continues:

          The higher education panel reviewing Nebraska’s standards is calling for students to learn to write in different “registers” — various degrees of formality appropriate for a range of situations.

Students must be able to intelligently write the four types of papers: (1) expository, (2) persuasive, (3) descriptive, and (4) narrative.


These four types are thoroughly covered in the English Success Standards.   For example, in Grade 10 – English II, the knowledge and skill is detailed as follows:


            (6)  Composition.  Using various forms, the student writes for a variety of audiences and for a variety of purposes. 


            The student is expected to:




            Write an expository research paper (on a contemporary issue) containing internal documentation and works cited/reference page using MLA, APA, or CMS guides. 



Additional writing standards are prescribed in Grade 11 – English III.  For example:


            (6)  Composition.  Using various forms, the student writes for a variety of audiences and for a variety of purposes. 


            The student is expected to:


            A)  Compose combinations of the four writing modes (e.g., persuasive, expository, narrative, descriptive) as needed for particular tasks, purposes, audiences.


            C)  Write persuasive compositions which defend or refute a thesis position with relevant examples and supporting details, using persuasive strategies…



Grade 11 – English III continues the writing practice for the various types.




                Produce a persuasive/descriptive composition:





I am proposing that Nebraska adopt the English Success Standards, in-whole or in-part.  By adopting the whole document, we can be assured that the scope and sequence is correct for all of the elements.

When I applied the Stotsky Guidelines to the English Success Standards, I found that the Standards are very rigorous.  I would give the English Success Standards a grade of “A.”

Also, I checked the English Success Standards for adequate coverage of phonemic awareness and English grammar/usage.  The Standards scored extremely high in both areas.

I strongly recommend that the Nebraska Department of Education and the State Board of Education adopt the English Success Standards.  By doing so, Nebraska’s students and teachers will become real winners!


Bio for Henry W. Burke


 Henry Burke is a Civil Engineer  with a B.S.C.E. and M.S.C.E.  He has been a Registered Professional Engineer (P.E.) for 37 years and has worked as a Civil Engineer in construction for over 40 years. 

Mr. Burke had a successful 27-year career with a large construction contractor. 

Henry Burke serves as a full-time volunteer to oversee various construction projects. He has written numerous articles on education, engineering, construction, politics, taxes, and the economy.


Henry W. Burke


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