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Thompson Standards

Thompson Standards

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The Authentic Standards Movement and Its Evil TwinAuthor(s): Scott ThompsonSource:
The Phi Delta Kappan,
Vol. 82, No. 5 (Jan., 2001), pp. 358-362Published by: Phi Delta Kappa InternationalStable URL:
Accessed: 17/08/2009 15:12
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TheAthenticStandardsMevmentandItsEvilTwiniWe ouldealizeignficantprogressnpublicducationiftheroponentsfstandards-basedeformjoinedandswiththe riticsof high-stakesestingndeffectivelyutlawedheuseofhigh-stakesestss soleindicatorsfstudentuccess,Mr Thompsonointsout.
BYSCOTTTHOMPSON
NETHING thestandardsmovementwillneverbeaccusedofis a lackofcriticalopposition.Butforall thefieryrhetoricthatcriticsdirectagainstthispowerful,nationwidemovement,thereisperhapsnogreaterthreattostandards-basedreformthanmuchofwhatis beingperpetratedin the name ofstandards-basedreform.Theso-calledmovement-so-called,becauseit is nottrulyasinglemovementbuttwinmovementsbearingthesamenamehasbecomeits ownworst enemy.Ifgivingtwinsthesame name isa recipefor confusion,considerthe havocthatgetsunleashedwhenoneofthemprovestobean"eviltwin."'In the case of thestandardsmovement,theeviltwinisthemorevisibleandpowerfulofthesiblings,and soits authenticnamesakeisinan increasingly periloussituation.Infact,theproblemisevenworse:the twoareessentiallyjoinedatthe
hip.
.MR
Sowhatare thesetwinmovements? First,let's distinguishthemby name.Iwouldrenametheeviltwin"test-based reform"or
morespecifically"high-stakes,tandard
ized,test-basedreform."The sibling,then,is "authentic,standards-basedreform."Thedefiningdistinctionbetweenthemistheirrespectiveinfluenceontheinstructionalcoreof schoolingand on equityissues.Whenacademicprogressisjudgedbyasingleindicatorandwhen highstakes-suchaswhethera studentispromotedfrom one gradetothenext or is eligibleforadiploma-areattachedto that singleindicator,thecommon effectis tonarrow curriculumandreduceinstructiontotest"prepping."What getslostwhenteachers andstudentsare pressuredtomakestudentsbettertest-takersis preciselytherich,high-level teachingand learningthat authentic,standards-basedreformaimsto promoteinallclassroomsand forallstudents.
Authentic,standards-basedeformis
fundamentallyconcernedwithequity.It departsradicallyfromthetrackingandsorting carriedoutby thefactory-styleschoolofyore. Instead,itaims tohold high expectations andprovidehighlevelsof supportforall students,teachers,andeducationalleaders.Under theevil twin's(per)versionof standardsandaccountability,weseestudents retainedingradebecause ofasingle testscore,andwetypicallyseea correspondingincreasein dropoutrateswhereSC07TTHOMPSONis assistantdirectorof thePanasonic Foundation,Secaucus,N.J.
358PHI ELTAAPPANIllustrationyemullivan
 
suchworstpractice isin place.2 Equity then becomesthe casualty rather thanthefruit of reform. AndasSandra Feldman,president of the American Federation ofTeachers, recently observed, "When testsareallowedtobecome the be-all and endall, they deform,notreform, education."3Inits influenceonboththeinstructional core of schooling and on equity, theevil twin constitutesaninversionofthe"real thing." It is a politically warped variationonwhat is arguably among thisnation's most powerful and promisingeducation reforms. Although the evil twin purportstobe standards-based, it actuallyfliesin the face of research-based standardsontheappropriate use of testing. Consider, forexample, the conclusions oftheNationalResearch Council's CommitteeonAppropriate Test Use, whicharebeingsystematically, if not willfully, ignored by manyeducation policy makers, especiallyatthestatelevel:"Aneducational decisionthatwillhaveamajor impacton atest takershouldnotbe madesolelyorautomatically onthe basis ofasingletestscore."4Thereare many reasons not to use anysingleassessmentasthebasisforassigning high-stakesconsequences. Notonlydoes suchapracticetendtodiminishcurriculum andinstruction,butmostpsychometricians willtellyouthat the assessmenthasyettobecreated withahighenoughlevel ofvalidityandreliabilitytojustifyits use asthesole basis formakingconsequential decisions about thetesttaker. Thisproblemisnotuniqueto education. Considerthewords ofLt.Gen.RonaldKadish,directoroftheBallisticMissileDefense Organization:"Idon't thinkweshoulddraw conclusions fromanyonetestthatare irrevocable. No one test tellsyoueverything youneedtoknow."5Anotherproblemisthat tests arefrequently misused. Standardized testsdesignedfornationalcomparisonsbetweenstudents,without referencetoaparticularschool's curriculumorcontentstandards,are,forexample,toooften usedtoevaluate teachersandschools. As Ihavenotedelsewhere,that'sabitliketryingto
use a jigsaw and screwdrivertoeat aplate of angel hairpasta.The tools arenot necessarilybad in themselves, ut theyarecer tainly ll-suited to the task.6High-stakes,test-basedeform s an approach hat ismost often drivenby statelevelmandate, and it suits thepoliticalap petite for rapid,quantifiable hence read
ily digestible by the public) results.7Testbased reform represents apotentially lethal threattoitsauthentictwin. Whetherby designorhappenstance,it is effectively sabotaging the authentic standardsmovement.Andnotsurprisingly, it is unleashingaswelling and intensifying backlashagainst standardsandtestingthat is taking form legally and politically,aswellas
through obilizedgrassrootspposition.8
It is the combination of test-based reform, in thenameof standards, and thewholesalebacklash that such practice provokes thatisplacingtheauthentic standards movementinperil.Notonlyinthe generalmedia,but alsoinspecializededucationmedia, onecansee that the war betweenproponentsandopponents of high-stakestesting tendstodefine the entire standardsmovementinsuchawaythat its actualnatureand potential, whichsomeschool districtsarebeginningtodemonstrate, getsburied under an avalanche of rhetoric.
ARationaleforAuthentic,Standards-BasedReform
Toofewchildren inmany ofourpublicschools arereceivingthequalityof education neededforsuccessfullife andworkinarapidly changingworld. Theimperativetoprovidethem withahigh-qualityeducation isnot somucheconomicasmoral.Given whatweknow of thelifelongconsequencesforindividualsofeducationaldeprivation-not tomention the broaderconsequencesforsocietyanddemocracyprovidingahigh-quality education forall childrenisquite simplytheright thingto do.Weknow thatsomegoodschoolshavesucceededinprovidingahigh-qualityeducation tostudentsdeemedleastlikelytosucceed:studentsof color and studentsinpoverty.9Butinanationof50millionschoolchildren,wefaceanenormous,yet-to-bemetchallenge: namely, takingsuchsuccesstoscale. Therearevarious theories ofchangethat aimtoaddress thischallenge.Thetheoryofchangebehindauthentic,standards-basedreform(again,I'mnottalk
ingabout test-based eform) s that, f youwant to improve student learningacrosstheboard, thenyou need to improve thequality of instructional ontent andpractice across theboard. In order to dothat,youmust fundamentallyransformchools and school systems so that heir ocus, energy, and resourcesarewholly aimed attheprimary oal of improvingnstruction
in order to improve learning and thus to
improve tudent erformancesmeasured
byavariety of assessments.Inshort,it isall about quality.Weknow that bureaucratic school systems that focus on monitoring mandated
inputs for compliance hold little,ifany,promise of creating and sustaininggoodschools for childrenacross the socioeconomic spectrum. n authentic, tandards
based system departs radically from thismodel. It shifts fromafocus on inputs toa focusonoutcomesorperformance.Itshifts fromafocusonquantityto afocusonquality.Itshiftsfromaconcernwithorganizational doingsto asingular, system
wide focusonimproving heperformance
ofevery student. Itshifts fromwhatRichard Elmore calls the"loosecoupling" approach to educationalgovernanceto a system ofgovernancethat isstructured around
public accountabilityoreducationalre
sults.',Loose coupling is an arrangement in
whichgoverning uthoritiesnpublicchools
-from school boards down to principals-essentially run political interference sothat classroom teachersareshieldedfrompublic scrutiny and can pursue their idio
syncratic edagogicalapproaches. nderthisgoverning structure,hichis perva
siveinpublicschoolsatthistime,youcaneasilyfind thatsecond-gradeteachersin
neighboringclassroomsaredoingcompletely differentthingswith their tudents
-interms of content, instructional practice,andevenbasicobjectives.Astandards-based approach departsfromthismodel intwoways. First,itbreaksdownteacher isolation andcallsfor collaborationaroundacommonset ofstandards sothatstudents, parents,and teachers have a widelysharedunderstandingof common educationalgoalsatvariouslevels ofschooling.Second,itrespondsto the demandsforpublicaccountability by assuminga resultsorientation andmakingthoseresultspublic.These shiftsmeanthatstructures, roles,responsibilities,andbudgetsmustbe rethoughtandredesignedtodramaticallyin
crease the ystem's nvestmentnhigh-quality learningor teachers,or schooleaders,and for those n thecentral ffice-whoseobit is to support eachers nd schoolleaders.A school systemthat snot accountable orprovidingcontinuous,high-quality,stan dards-basedrofessionaldevelopmentorteachers nd leaders as no businesshold
JANUARY2001 359

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