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Teaching Students to Read and Analyze Court Opinions.

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1 Teaching Students to Read and Analyze Court Opinions

2 Training for teachers on reading and analyzing court opinions is scarce The perceived entry barriers are high – Legal language – Lack of context – “Closed door” nature of proceedings 2

3 Several standards directly reference “Court Opinions” – RSIT 9-10.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper). 3

4 Several standards directly reference “Court Opinions” – RSIT 11-12.8: Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of Constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses). 4

5 Several standards directly reference “Court Opinions” – RSIT 11-12.9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. Part B of the standard refers back to RSIT 11-12.8 5

6 Several standards directly reference “Court Opinions” – AmGov 7: Constitutional government in the United States has changed over time as a result of amendments to the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court decisions, legislation, and informal practices 6

7 These standards are merely a sample of direct references. Many other standards apply to the practices of reading a court opinion, but do not overtly reference them. 7

8 Reading and writing tasks based on court opinions make for great opportunities to practice A LOT of standards – This also makes them very appealing to test writers! 8

9 By their nature, reading and interpreting a court opinion requires students to: – Cite evidence to support what a text says explicitly or inferentially (RSIT 1) – Determine the main idea or question posed (RSIT 2) – Analyze the relationships and interactions of people, events, and ideas across a text (or multiple texts). (RSIT 3) 9

10 By their nature, reading and interpreting a court opinion requires students to: – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as used in a text (RSIT 4) – Analyze the structure of a text (RSIT 5) – Determine an author’s point of view (RSIT 6) – Compare and contrast a text to a variety of different media (RSIT 7) Easy if listening to oral arguments 10

11 By their nature, reading and interpreting a court opinion requires students to: – Consider the sufficiency of evidence to make a claim (RSIT 8) – Analyze how two or more authors write different about a topic and interpret evidence and ideas differently (RSIT 9) – Reading complex texts (RSIT 10) Texts mainly fall in the “stretch” Lexile band 11

12 How many teachers are currently incorporating court opinions into their classrooms? – Which subjects? 12

13 Pearson released a full length sample ELA assessment this year for 10 th grade. – The PBA for non-fiction texts was based on Tinker v. Des Moines a U.S. Supreme Court Opinion involving students protesting the war in Vietnam. Given the secretive nature of the assessments, we do not know if a Court opinion was on any of the exams given in NY 13

14 Although not essential to the PBA on the exam, basic background knowledge helps familiarize students with the content prior to exposure on test day! 14

15 The Supreme Court of the United States is an appellate court, meaning cases that they decide have already been decided but are now being appealed to the Court because one or both parties was unhappy with the result 15

16 There are very limited circumstances in which the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction (meaning they hear a case for the first time) – These circumstances are outlined in 28 U.S.C. §1251 16

17 The Supreme Court is a “court of last resort,” meaning their decisions are final. There is no higher court you can appeal to. – Except… if you are really unhappy with their decision, you can lobby the legislature to change the law. The court interprets law, but does not make law. 17

18 Like all federal courts, the Supreme Court is limited to hearing actual “cases and controversies.” – This means the Court cannot simply be asked their opinion on an issue – In order for a case to come before the Court, there must be a plaintiff (or prosecutor) and defendant. 18

19 To get around this requirement, many legal advocacy groups employ the strategy of “test cases,” in order to challenge the Constitutionality of a law – Test cases involve a legal group soliciting potential plaintiffs, who are interviewed and considered based on whether or not they would be the best party to challenge an issue 19

20 Once the plaintiffs are chosen, they then need to experience some perceived “harm” which can be challenged in court. – An example of this is the Perry v. Brown case, which overturned California’s Proposition 8 (banning same-sex marriage). The attorneys interviewed potential plaintiffs, chose 4, had them go to their respective counties to apply for marriage licenses (knowing they would be denied) then sued the state for the denial. 20

21 The Supreme Court is not required to accept a case for review (with some limited exceptions). – Of the more than 7,000 petitions for review the Court receives each year, less than 1% are accepted and heard by the Court. – If the Court declines to hear a case, the lower ruling stands, and the appellant has no further recourse. 21

22 Most (but not all) Supreme Court cases involve some aspect of U.S. Constitutional law. – Sometimes the Court is asked to interpret a statute similar to other statutes around the country (especially when there’s a “circuit split.” Most of the cases likely to show up on PARCC will be Constitutional cases, most involving the Bill of Rights. 22

23 Supreme Court cases, and to a certain extent all court opinions, are products of the time in which they are brought and decided. The Court has often used the phrase that they are “reluctant to get ahead of the nation” on certain issues 23

24 For example… – By the time Loving v. Virginia was decided, only 16 states still had anti-miscegenation laws. – When Brown v. Board was decided, only 17 states required public segregation, with 16 states actively banning it and the remaining states having no specific law either way. – The Court hesitated to accept broad reaching same-sex marriage cases until this year, at a moment when 35 states have legalized same-sex marriage. 24

25 Other political factors sometimes play into the Court’s decision – In Brown v. Board, the United States was experiencing political backlash from the international community for continued segregation after a UNESCO Declaration in 1950 called The Race Dilemma was signed. This came at the height of the Cold War, when the U.S. was especially wary of international public opinion. 25

26 Teaching students to read court opinions breaks down into two main components – Teaching them the format of a case (will vary based on level of case) – Teaching them the strategies for identifying/analyzing components 26

27 Court opinions are in a very specific format, which students need to know about in order to be able to read them – The PARCC authors are unlikely to ask questions about a lot of the format components, but for students unfamiliar with the format they can trip them up! Pearson is likely to excerpt and reformat the case, so not all of these elements will be on the PARCC exam 27

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29 MOST Supreme Court cases include a case syllabus in the beginning – This syllabus is a quick summary of the legal issues involved in the case, some background information on the case, and the decision of the court. Although Pearson is unlikely to include this on the PARCC exam, it can be a useful place for you to find information to set up context for your students. 29

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31 31 Ordinarily, the case history information would be in the Syllabus. For the sample assessment Pearson wrote their own summary.

32 32 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

33 33 For the PARCC sample, Pearson excerpted the entire beginning, leaving us with part II where the court addresses the legal arguments in the case.

34 34 Court opinions have a very specific way of citing their sources. Students need to know how to navigate these.

35 Although it is unlikely PARCC will provide the Court Syllabus, they will need to include text from the opinion somewhere that explicitly states what the Court is trying to decide. – RSIT 2 – Determine main idea or question posed. 35

36 In order for something to be the “opinion of the Court” at least 5 of the Justices have to agree. – Sometimes there is a very complicated structure of concurrences that creates a “plurality” rather than a majority, but PARCC is unlikely to use such an example and wouldn’t ask questions about this if they did. 36

37 Opinions often have many parts, which are always numbered with roman numerals Usually the sectioning is used to distinguish between different aspects of a case (e.g. when there is more than one issue) Other times, the parts are used to separate where the Justices have differences of opinion. 37

38 In the example below from the Hobby Lobby case, the Justices have a slightly complicated mix of agreement and disagreement 38

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40 The excerpt in the PARCC sample does not fully articulate the holding, but does conclude the question asked. 40

41 Remember, PARCC will most likely never ask about any of these formatting issues. BUT… if students are unfamiliar with the format, they are likely to be caught up by these issues and distracted from the true questions. 41

42 The simplest way to summarize a case is to follow a method known as IRAC – Issue – Rule – Application – Conclusion 42

43 The issue is the same thing as the “question presented” Essentially: what is the court being asked to decide. – The Opinion almost always states this very clearly! The issue will usually be best articulated as a question. 43

44 Examples – Are a student’s First Amendment rights violated when a school official stops them from participating in a silent protest? – Are teachers agents of the police when they are talking with a student about suspected abuse? – Can a school principal search an 18 year old student’s backpack if they suspect they are in possession of tobacco products? 44

45 This tells what the law is that will answer the question. In the case, it is likely that the law won’t clearly address the specifics of the case. – Remember, if the law was clear in a case, the Supreme Court wouldn’t be hearing the appeal! The Rule is almost never a straight citation of a law (e.g. 28 U.S.C. §1251) but will instead be a citation from a prior case that dealt with the issue. 45

46 Examples: – “Where there is no finding and no showing that engaging in the forbidden conduct would ‘materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school,’ the prohibition cannot be sustained.” (from Tinker v. Des Moines) 46

47 How does the Court take the Rule and apply it to the scenario in the case This is where most of the citations to other cases will come in, as the Court considers whether the situation is analogous – E.g. currently the Court is grappling with whether or not smart phones should be viewed as telephones or computers for the purposes of a search. 47

48 In the Tinker case – The administrators had no evidence that the black armbands would cause any material disturbance to school discipline. They provided only evidence of fear that the armbands could cause a disruption. 48

49 This is essentially the same thing as the holding. How does the Court resolve the Issue after applying the rule? 49

50 In the Tinker case – Failing to show anything more than a base fear of possible discomfort in response to the conduct, the school did not have the ability to abridge the students’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech. 50

51 The EQuIP Student Work Protocol produced by Achieve is a great way to evaluate lessons and assessment tasks – Although the stated goal of the framework is to check alignment and make suggestions, using the framework also gives the evaluator a good handle on what the task actually asks of students We can use EQuIP to reverse engineer lessons that would prepare students for specific tasks they will see on the PARCC exam. 51

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54 54 What are the important action verbs in this task? Where do those verbs fall in Bloom’s taxonomy? - What lower level tasks are embedded within?

55 55 How clear are the directions? How would your students respond to these directions?

56 56 What standards are explicitly being tested in this task? What standards are implicitly being tested? What standards ARE NOT being tested here?

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59 Using the paper version of the test handed out, we are going to break down the task, and walk through the assessment. When doing this with our students, we want to model the following: – Close reading techniques – Text annotation (possible digitally as well) – Metacognition 59

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61 Students will likely need practice doing this more than once before they see it on the exam Test writers recommend that something similar to this kind of performance task is happening at least twice per unit. 61

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63 When selecting texts for the PARCC exam, Pearson likely looks at the following: – Landmark case (implicating Bill of Rights) – No controversy (no abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.) – Parallel structure of arguments (majority and dissenting opinions roughly overlap) – Low legal complexity – Easy to excerpt 63

64 Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier – Similar to Tinker, Court ruled that a school district could limit the content of school newspapers only if the censorship is reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns 64

65 Miranda v. Arizona – Landmark case that created the famous “Miranda Warning” that arresting officers must read to inform arrestees of their Constitutional rights when they are taken into custody. New Jersey v. TLO – Case involving school searches of student backpacks. 65

66 Texas v. Johnson – Case upholding the right of an individual to protest through the burning of an American flag. The Court was hotly divided in the case, finding by a 5-4 vote that no matter how offensive the speech is, symbolic speech is protected under the First Amendment. 66

67 Many of the standards call for students to compare and contrast texts, especially when comparing two different types of media on the same subject. – Court opinion + Oral arguments – Oral arguments + Newspaper article – Court opinion + NPR interview (Nina Totenberg) 67

68 When pairing texts, give thought to the level of complexity of each text – PARCC recommends that the texts be of different complexity levels to assess different skills. Look especially for texts that expose students to a concept that is reintroduced and expanded in the second text 68

69 PARCC writers are especially interested in seeing if students can apply meaning across texts and discuss how the meaning expands – E.g., Tinker introduces the “substantial disruption” standard. Later cases like Kuhlmeier expand upon this to also require “legitimate pedagogical concerns.” 69

70 PARCC writers LOVE drag and drop activities! – The exam writers put in red herrings! Drag and drop tasks could include: – Group arguments by document in which they appear – Arrange arguments in the order required to complete a logical chain – Lay parallel arguments side by side 70

71 Can students create a summary of information that does not include any of their own evaluation – The essay task on the sample is essentially asking this same question. 71

72 Pair a reading of the texts with a discussion of Controversial Issues. This gives students a chance to practice their analytical and evaluative skills Also demands that students go back to the text to find evidence for their claims. 72

73 73 1.Choose an established model or technique to start: A.Socratic Seminar B.Public Issues Model C.Civil Conversation D.Philosophical Chairs 2.Identify a clear purpose for the discussion

74 74 3.Provide a common basis of understanding. 4.Establish clear ground rules. 5.Serve as an active facilitator. 6.Remain neutral for as long as is possible in the discussion.


76 Please complete the evaluation forms provided Feel free to contact me with any follow-up questions or for more information about OCLRE and our programs – 76

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