OK, first, there is no mandate for HARDER books. There are guidelines for the Lexile bands and reading levels of books to be at (actually ABOVE) grade level. However, so many defenders of this heinous piece of writing will point out that teachers are given the discretion to consider other factors besides syllables, sentences, semantics, and syntax (basically what all the exile/level boils down to). But let's put this aside for now as this ability to suggest other books is NOT happening in many schools where CCSS is being implemented in a lock-step manner.
Let's move on to some of the "findings" of the research (conducted by the way by Fordham Institute that supports CCSS (and no one sees a conflict here? Puh-leeze!). One is that too many teachers are selecting books based on grade level and NOT the levels of the students. OK, guys, you cannot have this both ways. Teachers are being told to select books based on the bandwidths and scores at each grade level.
And then one of the researchers makes this observation, "'Across all grade levels...there was a tendency to err on the side of lower-level books,'" said Kathleen Porter-Magee, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow at Fordham." Facts, please? How low, which books, what grades? Oh, wait, that is coming.
Here is the chart reporting results from their survey of 1154 teachers (really, this is significant an "n"?):
Bud, Not Buddy and Tuck Everlasting are, alas, too easy for 4-5th grade. Never mind the concepts, themes, etc. Those do not count.
Middle school does not fare much better:
Now we lose Tom Sawyer, Anne Frank's Diary, Wrinkle in Time, and Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. Too easy, sorry.
Finally, let's see how high school fares (but I bet you can guess already, right?):
Buh-bye Odyssey, Metamorphosis, Fahrenheit 451, and To Kill a Mockingbird.
I wonder how titles and numbers and more would change with a different sample? I wonder how there was control for things like budgets (did schools have funds to acquire new titles?) and approach (did all these teachers teach a common novel?), what books might have been read in earlier grades, and so many more factors I cannot even list them all. But the headline encapsulates it all: it is the teachers to blame. They are going too easy on the kids. They are not following the rules (evident in their answer to a question about how CCSS has changed their teaching). Is it any wonder there is push back from folks who KNOW how to nurture readers? How to create community? How to assist kids as they move from book to book to book?
But most of all, I am weary of these attention-gathering headlines that trash teachers, that point fingers, that seem to say, "hey. we have given you all you need, now go and do it." Oh, another note, This research study cites the AR "research" as well. Here is a link to the PDF of the full report: http://www.edexcellence.net/sites/default/files/publication/pdfs/20131023-Common-Core-in-the-Schools-a-First-Look-at-Reading-Assignments.pdf. The lists of books presented to teachers for selection begins on page 25.
I am practicing my deep breathing (sighing). This is just the beginning of the numerous articles we will see popping up telling readers that CCSS would work if only teachers would do it correctly.