Friday, October 22, 2010

We need more... standardization?!

True Story:

High school administrators called a meeting with their school's subject department leaders. Recently, students and parents had begun comparing how some teachers were teaching, and the administration were fielding many calls from parents about how different teachers were teaching the same courses in different ways. Some teachers gave different assignments, others gave less quizzes while others others gave more or less homework.

Years ago, the departments had already decided to standardize their final assessments. The reasoning being that every student in the same class, regardless of teacher, should do the same final exam. It seemed only fair, and it solved a lot of problems based on complaints from students and parents about some of the variances in exam format and difficulty (which depended on the teacher).

Because students and parents were now complaining about the differences between the frequency and format of each teacher's assignments, the administration proposed that assignments should be standardized like the assessments.

Of course the teachers were up in arms about the entire suggestion - the idea of standardizing assignments was immediately rejected, and the administrators backed off.

I think this story should teach us two things:

Firstly, administrators who field complaints from parents should redirect parents immediately to the teacher whom they have a concern with. Good administrators know that every teacher teaches and assesses differently and are happy for it. But if the students and parents have a legitimate gripe about a teacher's teaching, then simply forcing all teachers to comply to an arbitrary consistency won't solve anything - the ability for an administrator to dismiss complaints by simply saying, "all teachers here teach that way" is hardly a solution. No administrator worth having as an administrator would ever see this as an acceptable solution. In fact, the real problem isn't that parents are calling; but that the parents aren't calling the teacher directly to have an honest conversation about their child's learning is at the heart of the issue.

Secondly, the teachers disgust for standardized assignments should not be limited to just the assignments. Standardization is driven by mistrust, and needs to be rejected at all levels. Standardization at the global level, is equally as reprehensible as it is at the national, provincial, district or even school level.

If teachers are trusted enough to spend a good chunk of every day instructing, coaching and teaching students in a way that is tailored to the learners' needs, then why aren't teacher trusted to assess their students' based on the learners' personalized needs?

Removing the teachers' and students' voices from deciding how they shall learn is no more or less distrustful and disrespectful than removing their voice from how their learning shall be assessed.

Standardization is not part of the solution; it is part of the problem.


  1. "If teachers are trusted enough to spend a good chunk of every day instructing, coaching and teaching students in a way that is tailored to the learners' needs, then why aren't teacher trusted to assess their students' based on the learners' personalized needs?"

    In point of fact, I am afraid that all this standardization is largely motivated by exactly this distrust. Somehow, we are apparently not getting it right in the classroom. Only some lingering pragmatism restrains the policy makers from attempting instructional standardization.

  2. I think both groups missed the point. Teachers assumed that standardization meant similar assignments (like assessments). Administrators assumed that parents wanted consistency between teachers. The real issue is about consistency of pedagogy and effective practice. Are there core beliefs about effective practice and assessment that drive this dialog? Are parents reflecting on inconsistent methodologies and a lack of cohesion that is representative of an organizational culture that drives effective decisions about the kinds and types of assignments most appropriate to the content and goals of the curriculum. It's far too easy to kick parents back to teachers and find that teachers have undercut organztionals in favor of their own agendas. Administrators have to be involved and effectively communicate emerging issues of organizational competency to staff. It's an addaptive problem, so staff have to be empowered to solve it. To ignore it devalues the collaborative nature at is essential to engaging parents on behalf of their children.

  3. I know a certain HIS dept that welcomed standardized pre and post tests. Think there was some comfort to "knowing" what to teach, having somebody else make the test for them, and in the end they can more easily blame the kids for the test scores.

  4. I concede jzurfluh's point that we need to model and value collaboration. Certainly I have benefited from my school-based professional learning community's work to develop collective assessments, activities and rubrics. Our work on reading competencies has proved particularly helpful this year. Dialog and reflection about the appropriate assignments is also invaluable.

    The teacher's professional judgement about his or her own class must remain paramount in my mind. If the teacher has no professional judgement then administration needs to take action. Otherwise, we need to be able to differentiate for our students. The proof of this for me is those rare times when I have had an opportunity to teach the same course to two different classes. The classes always seemed to get different courses because they are different people combined into different groups. Positing a collective agreement about the most appropriate approach to a learning outcome seems to me to disregard differentiation and multiple intelligences. Can a professional learning community develop differentiated approaches to a learning outcome? Yes, but then it will not be particularly standardized.

  5. Hi my name is Toni Parrish and I am a student at the Universtiy of South Alabama majoring in elementary education. I am taking Dr. Strange for EDm310 and I have been assigned to comment on your blog. I chose this blog because it is a subject that I have wondered about. I don't think that standardization is good for the students at all. Just think, all teachers are different and their way of educating a student is also going to be different. Once there is a teacher/student bond created and they are familiar with the way each other learns and teaches it's hard to break it, and for the principal to dictate what should be taught and when is just not fair. I understand that they want every grade level to be on the same page and for the parent complaints to cease, but they must also realize that the most important people here are the students. I will elaborate more on this soon on my