Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Emily Issacs

Committee Member

Caroline Dadas

Committee Member

Jessica Restaino


Since its release in June 2010, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been adopted by more than 40 states. Created by a team led by curriculum specialist Susan Pimentel and College Board president David Coleman, the standards establish benchmarks for what students should learn at specific grade levels. In this project, I examine closely the Core’s writing standards, analyzing the writing values it emphasizes at Grades K, 5, 8, and 11/12. Generally, the CCSS has been lauded for its “Anchor Standards for Writing,” which focus on the production of narrative, informational, and argumentative texts as a broad requirement. Yet ultimately the grade-specific standards prioritize the last requirement, as they expect students to produce well-defended, logical, and formal writing at the high school level. In concert with Common Core critics such as Leslie Burns1 and Anthony Esolen,2 among others, this project explores the tensions that exist within the writing standards, analyzing them along with examples of student writing provided in the CCSS’s comprehensive “Appendix C: Samples of Student Writing.” Unlike Bums and Esolen, whose critiques of the CCSS focus only on what they believe to be the standards’ flaws, I strive for a more balanced approach, noting how the CCSS could better prepare students for college or professional writing by expanding on the qualities and components of writing it currently values.

In this project, I conduct a qualitative data analysis of the CCSS, which reveals that the current standards value personal and collaborative writing in Grades K-5, but then ultimately reduce the writing process to an impersonal, formulaic assemblage of practical information by Grades 11/12. Building on this analysis, I rely on Peter Elbow, Anne Lamott, and Judd Apatow - three writers from the discourses of academic research, fiction, and comedy, respectively - as models of working writers who offer three different perspectives on the relevance of personal writing to their professional work. These writers, along with the previously mentioned qualitative data analysis, provide a rationale for this project’s revisions to the writing standards. The revisions, which address the lack of audience awareness, personal memory, personal reaction, reflection, and collaboration in the standards for Grades 6-12, call on the CCSS to emphasize all three rhetorical appeals, to prepare students for the kinds of college and professional-level writing that aren’t valued by standardized tests like the SATs or ACTs, and to realize the potential of multimodal technologies for collaborative writing. Ultimately, I argue that if the Common Core were to adopt the revisions proposed in this project, then students would be encouraged to discover the value of writing beyond the academic experience, and would thus more readily see themselves as writers, not just student writers.

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