State law emphasizes media literacy for K-12 students

An addition to California’s Education Code reinforces the push to provide students with vital digital citizenship skills by codifying media literacy content in curriculum frameworks

(Oatawa on AdobeStock)
(Oatawa on AdobeStock)
Serena Bettis
Published November 29, 2023  • 
1:00 pm

SACRAMENTO – In a recent development from October, an assembly bill was signed into law with the goal of empowering California students with the essential media literacy skills necessary to effectively navigate the digital landscape by integrating media and information literacy content into state curriculum guidelines.

Introduced by Assemblymember Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, Assembly Bill (AB) 873 is requiring the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) – an advisory body to the State Board of Education (SBE) – to consider the inclusion of media literacy education into curriculum frameworks the next time they are revised. According to the bill’s text, the California Department of Education (CDE) currently lacks an official media literacy curriculum framework.

“Teaching media literacy is a key strategy to support our children, their families and our society that are inundated with misinformation and disinformation on social media networks and digital platforms,” Berman said in a press release.

Media literacy

AB 873 defines media literacy as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and use media and information” and includes foundational skills that lead to digital citizenship. Digital citizenship is defined as “a diverse set of skills related to current technology and social media,” including appropriate, responsible and healthy online behaviors. 

The concept of media literacy as included in AB 873 goes beyond identifying what is popularly called “fake news.” While the bill notes the “proliferation of online misinformation,” it also cites a study from Stanford University that found 82% of middle school students struggled to distinguish advertisements from news stories. 

Media literacy would help students understand those distinctions and recognize how an advertisement is attempting to influence a consumer. It would also help students understand how to communicate respectfully and professionally online and protect their privacy. 

Mike Torres, director of the CDE Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division, said that both media literacy and digital citizenship are related to information literacy, defined by the American Library Association as the ability to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate and use effectively the needed information.” 

These concepts are also included in the MSLS and the integration of them into the curriculum frameworks is intended “to ensure that all pupils in California are prepared with media literacy skills necessary to safely, responsibly and critically consume and use social media and other forms of media,” according to the bill.

Requirements of AB 873

Of the nine curriculum frameworks adopted by the SBE, the bill calls for considerations of revisions for the English, mathematics, science and history-social science frameworks whenever they are revised, which comes into effect after Jan. 1, 2024.

There is no set schedule for revisions or the development of new frameworks, Torres said; however, all frameworks have been updated in the last decade, barring the Career Technical Education framework, which was last updated in 2007.

“The IQC receives funding on an annual basis in the state budget based on current projects,” Torres said. “The revision of or development of a new curriculum framework is contingent upon approval of the SBE and funding.”

In the ELA/ELD curriculum framework, the bill specifically states that the IQC should consider including the Model School Library Standards (MSLS) for California Public Schools, which were adopted by the SBE in 2010. The standards outline what students should be capable of when it comes to accessing, evaluating and using information, and then integrating those skills into other areas of learning. 

“The existing Model School Library Standards include the identification of the skills essential for pupils to be information literate, which includes media literacy content; however, these content standards are currently not included in any existing curriculum framework,” AB 873 said.

By incorporating the MSLS into the ELA/ELD framework, the bill hopes to provide students with consistent instruction on those standards across all grade levels. It also requires the IQC to consider incorporating media literacy content at each grade level. 

Torres said the bill codifies the work that is already being done to incorporate the standards into the content-area frameworks and ensures that, as funding becomes available to revise and update the frameworks, those efforts will continue. 

“Since the 2010 adoption of the MSLS, it has been standard practice to integrate the MSLS into content frameworks as they are updated, as exemplified by the integration of the MSLS throughout the 2014 ELA/ELD framework, including but not limited to chapter 10, ‘Learning in the 21st century,’” Torres said. 

Curriculum frameworks are thorough documents published by the SBE that are meant to provide guidance to school districts and county offices of education on how they should implement the education standards adopted by the SBE. According to the CDE, curriculum frameworks help improve the quality of both teaching and learning in California classrooms.

The adoption and revision process includes heavy involvement from teachers, multiple workshops, a framework and evaluation criteria committee and a public hearing and comment process. Torres said it is important to note that while the IQC can endorse the usage of the MSLS standards within the associated frameworks, “the content of any media literacy class is a local decision made by local educational agencies.”

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter