Friday, November 24, 2006

The Misguided Argument for National Standards

The Journal Sentinel has another story this morning about how maybe, just maybe, Wisconsin students aren't as great as everyone thinks.

The JS has learned -- through a study from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance -- that a gap exists between the way Wisconsin students score on state standardized tests and how a subsection of those students (2000, to be exact) score on national standardized tests.

Since students are doing better on the state tests than they are on the national tests, the implication goes, the state test must be weak.

This has fueled calls by some for the establishment of national standards that would be tied to a national standardized test.

Setting aside the fact that even though Wisconsin students score higher on the state test, they still score among the best in the country on the national test (see here, here, and here) -- a fact that the JS article completely ignored -- there are other important reasons to challenge these calls for national standards.

I should admit, I am bias on this topic. Standardized testing and, subsequently, standardized teaching are why I left teaching two years ago. (You can read more about that here.)

And it's that link between standardized testing and standardized teaching that most people don't understand -- or care about -- when they push national standards.

Most teachers will tell you that assessment needs to match instruction. And not just what you instruct students on, but also how you instruct them. For instance, it's unfair to students to focus a class on conceptual thinking and then hand them a multiple choice test to assess them on it. In that case, the assessment clearly isn't matching the instruction.

So when a researcher from the conservative Fordham Foundation says, "Math is the same in Madison as it is in Missouri as it is in Mumbai," in an attempt to justify national standards, he's missing the point that assessment is -- or, at least, should be -- based not only on what you teach, but also how you teach.

Thus, when you pre-determine assessment, you inherently pre-determine instruction -- again, not just what, but also how.

And pre-determining how a class is taught is detrimental to both teachers and students because it severely limits the possibility of developing any organic teaching and learning within the classroom, which is often the most meaningful kind for teachers and students.

It's bad enough we have standardization taking place at the state level today. Making it national only takes us that much further away from true local control of education. And by "local" I not only mean the community, but more importantly the classroom itself.


Blogger proletariat said...


Good post. I also enjoyed the link about why you left teaching.

It certainly seems many of these conservatives have never stepped foot inside a classroom.

Here is a concrete example of the double nature of a math assessment. The assessment served district as well as state needs but also served teachers, parents, and students need of an authentic assessment. While there was a core number of say 25 correct that would be beneficial to categorize a particular student as basic, proficient, advanced, it could also be broken down more to such areas as number concept, problem solving, time, money etc. In a recent technology move only a core score could be added which made this particular assessment useless for teachers, parents, and students.

Recently in response two upcoming state test, there was a two to three week window to practice and learn test taking skills, a two week window to take the test, with a 1 window for any retakes.

I, too, find the whole standards stuff very frustrating. Teacher's agency is so wrapped up into a standards based language. We don't talk about this or that being best for students, but this or that being aligned to this or that standard.

November 26, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Thanks for your comment. Good point about the language of standards. That can be both confining for the teachers and, I imagine, quite disheartening for the students to hear -- makes them seem less like active learners and more like passive products.

November 28, 2006  

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