Standards or guidelines?

As a teacher in Texas, I have been exempt from the roll-out of Common Core that my colleagues in 47 states have been subjected to. Since the various issues with Common Core have been well documented by people all across the country, I won’t continue beating that drum. But what of the overarching question of should there be standards in place at all?

Just the word ‘standard’ rubs me the wrong way when it comes to education. As a math guy, when I see that word I immediately think that whatever is being measured must fall within a given set of tidy parameters. In my seven years as a high school math teacher, this is simply not reality. Students are sentient beings (even teenagers…at least sometimes) and as such do not fit into categories or levels. When I see standards (called TEKS here in Texas) for a given concept, I ask myself two questions: ‘What does that look like?’ and ‘How will I measure student growth on on this’.

As a math teacher, I should be able to answer the first question pretty easily. But the answer to the second question will probably vary wildly among different students. My special populations may need extensive accommodations or spiraled down modifications to gain some understanding of the concept. Some students may need to express their learning in a way that is not traditional.

If a student comes to me in August already more than one grade level behind, is that student even capable of meeting the grade-level standards by the end of the year? Perhaps not. But would not meeting the grade-level standard imply that student had not shown progress? No, it would not.

Standards should instead be packaged as guidelines and allow the educators to authentically assess and track each student’s progress through the school year. This leads to the connected issue of standardized testing, which I will address in a future post.

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