I have been doing a lot of research and thinking about the Common Core standards that has so many up in arms these days. That has led to much more general thinking about “standards” and standardization, and thus testing, which means I come back to the old bugaboo: assessment.
It’s a bugaboo (would never have guessed that SpellCheck would know how to spell bugaboo!) because much of what seems to be at issue in our current discussions on education is how to assess education. The following are the disjointed but related thoughts I have had on this issue (chime in as you like):
As I understand them, “standards” in an educational manner refer to a set benchmark or “spot” in learning that can be in some ascertained to have been accomplished. I have already discussed the modern confusion of arts and sciences and what that means to this issue: you can’t assess actions and facts in the same way.
So if we are going to have a common set of standards, it would seem that a number of things must be in place: an agreed upon goal for education (or everyone will have differing standards), some manner of ensuring that the standards are achievable by those they are set upon (can any student or only some students achieve this standard?), and finally a clear and standard means of determining (assessing) that the standard has been obtained.
As to goal, this seems very difficult above the local level – at the heart of the Common Core movement is the notion that a kid in 9th grade Algebra in Massachusetts and one in Louisiana would be aiming at the same standard because all kids everywhere should be called to the same standard. I am not convinced that you can say this honestly, and then if you do succeed in arguing the theory of it, that you can actually pull it off in reality. It seems to suffer from our modern fallacy of equality – that we can actually ensure that everyone is exactly the same and should be that way.
As to ensuring that all kids can achieve the same standard, that also seems to suffer from some delusional thinking based on the idea that a central “committee” can somehow know enough about “all kids” as to make such a standard and know that they have successfully addressed this issue. There is a dangerous notion hidden in this idea of “democratized” learning. Can any committee reach agreement without compromise, and when it is a compromised agreement, is it faithful to any real standard or has it been reduced to a lesser standard to achieve agreement?
And the last point, the big point, is very difficult in my mind at the national or “common” level: who is going to determine the standards have been achieved and by what means? Again, the committee aspect addressed above is staring us in the face. And further, there is no way around the subjective aspects of any standard. Who says what the standard is? Who says what “percentage” of mastery is “passing”? I am all for a discussion of mastery, but what constitutes such?
In the end I applaud an effort to articulate standards. I believe highly in such. But I am not convinced by the paltry discussion I have seen on the above issues. I think the belief has been “let’s state the standards and then find a means to ensure that everyone meets them and we will be fine.” I am not finding much in the way of robust discussion of these difficulties, or the many others that surround the topic of assessment. There needs to be more discussion of assessment, including but limited to, standards. And by the way, once we articulate a set of standards (either locally or nationally) we then have to discuss how to teach our students to those.