Guidelines and Targets
Webster defines a standard as “something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison; an approved model.” Standards, by my definition, are guidelines, models and meant to be used as a foundation for instructional design. By utilizing standards in this way, teachers become less reliant on outdated material, have a clear and current view of the objectives for their course and still have the flexibility to adapt their instructional planning to the needs of their students. However, as the federal government has become more involved in the direction of public schools with NCLB, the standards and the tests that follow, have been overemphasized to the point of frustration.
The standards based tests have become the ultimate high stakes chip in the assessment of students and their schools. The test scores allow for unfair and unequal comparisons of student to student and school to school. An ‘A’ student can fail the exit exam and be held back or required to attend summer school for “remediation” despite the fact that they can explain, interpret and apply what they’ve learned in school.
This over reliance on summative assessment is the ultimate example of the assumption “works well in theory.” However, in reality this practice leaves much to be desired. This square peg into a square box mentality hinders a teacher’s ability to adapt to an ever changing classroom environment. Some teachers are amazed that of the 25 students in their class, there are varied learning styles each requiring different methodology. How will they cover all the material for the end of the year tests? What will determine the pace at which they move from concept to concept in their class? Hopefully it’s not a pacing guide provided by state officials dictating that they cover this on this specific date. It should consist of two interrelated factors. How well you have taught the material and more importantly the proficiency level of the students, how well they understand the concept. When our students are on chapter four and we’ve paced ahead to chapter seven to cover the material, how can we justify this to the students left behind? Coverage never equals understanding.
Teachers must have the ability to teach to the needs of their students and this responsibility should be enhanced not hindered by the standards and high stakes tests.