The Authentic Standards Movement and Its Evil Twin Author(s): Scott Thompson Source: The Phi Delta

Kappan, Vol. 82, No. 5 (Jan., 2001), pp. 358-362 Published by: Phi Delta Kappa International Stable URL: Accessed: 17/08/2009 15:12
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The Athentic Mevment and

Standards Its Evil Twini

sign Wecouldrealize ificant in progress publiceducation of proponents if the reform standards-based critics with the hands joined testing ofhigh-stakes and the outlawed useof effectively tests high-stakes as sole success, of indicators student pointsout. Mr Thompson
the standards NE THING movement will never be ac cused of is a lack of critical opposition. But for all the fiery rhetoric that critics di rect against this powerful, na there is tionwide movement, perhaps no greater threat to standards-based reform thanmuch of what is being perpe trated in the name of standards-based re so-called, form. The so-called movement So what are these twinmovements? First, because it is not truly a single movement let's distinguish them by name. Iwould re but twin movements bearing the same name name the evil twin "test-based reform" or has become its own worst enemy. more specifically"high-stakes,standard If giving twins the same name is a recipe ized, test-based reform." The sibling, then, for confusion, consider the havoc that gets is "authentic, standards-based reform." The unleashed when one of them proves to be defining distinction between them is their an "evil twin."' In the case of the standards respective influence on the instructional movement, the evil twin is themore visible core of schooling and on equity issues. and powerful of the siblings, and so its au When academic progress is judged by thentic namesake is in an increasingly peril a single indicator and when high stakes ous situation. In fact, the problem is even such as whether a student is promoted worse: the two are essentially joined at the from one grade to the next or is eligible hip. are attached to that sin for a diploma gle indicator, the common effect is to nar SC07T THOMPSON is assistant director row curriculum and reduce instruction to test "prepping."What gets lost when teach of the Panasonic Foundation, Secaucus, N.J.
. MR

ers and students are pressured tomake stu dents better test-takers is precisely the rich, high-level teaching and learning that au thentic, standards-based reform aims to pro mote in all classrooms and for all students.

reform is Authentic, standards-based
fundamentally concerned with equity. It de parts radically from the tracking and sort ing carried out by the factory-style school of yore. Instead, it aims to hold high expec tations and provide high levels of support for all students, teachers, and educational leaders. Under the evil twin's (per)version of standards and accountability, we see students retained in grade because of a sin gle test score, and we typically see a cor responding increase in dropout rates where


Jem Illustration by Sullivan

such worst practice is in place.2 Equity then becomes the casualty rather than the fruit of reform. And as Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, recently observed, "When tests are allowed to become the be-all and end all, they deform, not reform, education."3 In its influence on both the instruc tional core of schooling and on equity, the evil twin constitutes an inversion of the "real thing." It is a politically warped vari ation on what is arguably among this na tion's most powerful and promising edu cation reforms. Although the evil twin pur ports to be standards-based, it actually flies in the face of research-based standards on the appropriate use of testing. Consider, for example, the conclusions of the National Research Council's Committee on Appro priate Test Use, which are being system atically, if not willfully, ignored by many education policy makers, especially at the state level: "An educational decision that will have a major impact on a test taker should not be made solely or automatical ly on the basis of a single test score."4 There are many reasons not to use any single assessment as the basis for assign ing high-stakes consequences. Not only does such a practice tend to diminish cur riculum and instruction, but most psy chometricians will tell you that the assess ment has yet to be created with a high enough level of validity and reliability to justify its use as the sole basis formaking consequential decisions about the test taker. This problem is not unique to edu cation. Consider the words of Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, directoroftheBallistic Mis sile Defense Organization: "I don't thinkwe should draw conclusions from any one test that are irrevocable. No one test tells you everything you need to know."5 Another problem is that tests are fre quently misused. Standardized tests de signed for national comparisons between students, without reference to a particu lar school's curriculum or content stan dards, are, for example, too often used to evaluate teachers and schools. As I have noted elsewhere, that's a bit like trying to

ily digestible by the public) results.7 Test based reform represents a potentially le thal threat to its authentic twin.Whether by design or happenstance, it is effective ly sabotaging the authentic standardsmove ment. And not surprisingly, it is unleash ing a swelling and intensifying backlash against standards and testing that is tak ing form legally and politically, as well as

theprimary goal of improvinginstruction
in order to improve learning and thus to

as improve student performance measured
by a variety of assessments. In short, it is all about quality. We know that bureaucratic school sys tems that focus on monitoring mandated

inputs for compliance hold little, if any, promise of creatingand sustaininggood through mobilized grassroots opposition.8 schools for childrenacross the socioeco It is the combination of test-based re nomic spectrum. authentic,standards An

form, in the name of standards, and the based system departs radically from this wholesale backlash that such practice pro model. It shifts from a focus on inputs to vokes that is placing the authentic standards a focus on outcomes or performance. It movement in peril. Not only in the gener shifts from a focus on quantity to a focus al media, but also in specialized education on quality. It shifts from a concern with media, one can see that the war between organizational doings to a singular, system proponents and opponents of high-stakes wide focuson improvingtheperformance testing tends to define the entire standards of every student. It shifts from what Rich movement in such away that its actual na ard Elmore calls the "loose coupling" ap ture and potential, which some school dis proach to educational governance to a sys tem of governance that is structured around tricts are beginning to demonstrate, gets buried under an avalanche of rhetoric. public accountabilityfor educational re sults.', Loose coupling is an arrangement in

A Rationale for Authentic, Standards-Based Reform

in whichgoverning authorities publicschools

from school boards down to principals Too few children inmany of our pub essentially run political interference so lic schools are receiving the quality of edu that classroom teachers are shielded from cation needed for successful life and work public scrutiny and can pursue their idio in a rapidly changing world. The impera Under syncratic pedagogicalapproaches. tive to provide them with a high-quality ed thisgoverning structure, which is perva ucation is not somuch economic asmoral. sive in public schools at this time, you can Given what we know of the lifelong con easily find that second-grade teachers in sequences for individuals of educational neighboringclassrooms are doing com not tomention the broader pletely differentthings with theirstudents deprivation in terms of content, instructional prac for society and democracy consequences providing a high-quality education for tice, and even basic objectives. A standards-based approach departs from all children is quite simply the right thing to do. thismodel in twoways. First, itbreaks down We know that some good schools have teacher isolation and calls for collaboration succeeded in providing a high-quality ed around a common set of standards so that ucation to students deemed least likely to students, parents, and teachers have awide succeed: students of color and students in ly shared understanding of common edu cational goals at various levels of schooling. poverty.9But in a nation of 50 million school children, we face an enormous, yet-to-be Second, it responds to the demands for pub met challenge: namely, taking such success lic accountability by assuming a results ori to scale. There are various theories of change entation and making those results public. that aim to address this challenge. The These shifts mean that structures, roles, and budgets must be re theory of change behind authentic, stan responsibilities, dards-based reform (again, I'm not talk thought and redesigned to dramatically in

use a jigsaw and screwdrivertoeat aplate of angelhairpasta.The tools arenot nec essarilybad in themselves, theyarecer but tainlyill-suited to the task.6 High-stakes,test-based reformisan ap proachthat ismost often drivenby state level mandate,and it suits thepolitical ap petite for rapid,quantifiable(hence read

ingabout test-basedreform)is that,if you want to improvestudent learningacross theboard, thenyou need to improvethe qualityof instructional contentandprac tice across theboard. Inorder to do that, youmust fundamentally transform schools and school systems so thattheirfocus,en ergy, and resourcesarewholly aimed at

crease thesystem's investment high-qual in ity learning teachers, school leaders, for for andfor thosein thecentral office-whose job it is to support teachers school leaders. and A schoolsystemthatisnot accountable for providingcontinuous,high-quality,stan professionaldevelopmentfor dards-based teachers leaders no businesshold and has
JANUARY 2001 359

Authentic, standards-based reform holds ers and principals are pressured in a vari the potential for improving the quality of ety of ways to raise test scores, and students aredrilled accordingly. student performance tomeet systemwide standards. -Under a system of authentic reform, The urgency of the need for systemic standards. It is an approach that is designed student assessments are aligned with the of improvement public educationwould tomake schools accountable to the com be difficult to overstate. Any observer of munities they are meant to serve and to standards, and students have numerous op do so by focusing on high-quality teaching portunities to demonstrate that they have public education whose eyes are even par and learning, not on test scores. It is an met the standards. No single test is used tially open has discerned various currents approach that could stand up to the threat to determine whether a standard has been that represent a potential threat to our pub lic schools. The number of parents who are of privatization. It is an approach that as met. Under test-based reform, a single state pires to reach a goal this nation has never or national test is used to determine whether home schooling their children is growing students are promoted to the next grade or significantly, as are the number of states achieved through its systems of public edu are allowed to receive a diploma. that are fostering charter schools, some of cation: a high-quality education for all stu * High-quality, individualizedsupport back dents, regardless of socioeconomic which are operated by for-profit firms.Mean for students is a hallmark of authentic, stan ground. But authentic, standards-based re includ while, efforts to secure vouchers are formand arguably public education it dards-based reform. Such support is rare ing both private and public schools in test-based reform efforts.When it is pres is seriously threatened when high self not going away. ent, it tends to focus on test-taking tech it is not standards get confused with high-stakes, Over the next decade or two, niques rather than on teaching and learn standardizedtests. difficult to imagine a scenario unfolding ing. begin forming in which home-schoolers * Authentic, standards-based reform has cooperatives and the number of students A 180-Degree Inversion implications for every person, policy, and participating in them greatly expands."I In practice in a school system because it in Identical twins can be difficult to dis this scenario, publicly funded vouchers al volves a complete abandonment of the bu so take off, and the charter school movement tinguish solely by surface characteristics. reaucratic, "seat time" approach to educa But if one is evil and the other virtuous, increasingly caters to groups of families tion and replaces itwith a system of learn with specialized interests. We might then their character traits or essential natures ing communities dedicated to helping all find textbook publisherscustomizingtheir will stand in stark contrast. So it is with students reach their intellectual, social, and test-based reform and standards-based re wares for the narrow interests of parents form. On the face of it, they are both about personal potential. By contrast, test-based whose children are being educated in co reform, through its focus on high-stakes operatives or in independent schools or moving from an approach to education tests, narrows the curriculum to what is that values inputs to an approach that val around parochial values. Mean ganized included on the tests and reduces instruc while, the remaining public school systems ues outputs or results. But a deeper look tional practice to test preparation. into the essential natures of these twins would find themselves increasingly segre A still more profound point of contrast reveals that test-based reform is nothing gated and educationally crippled. The com between the two movements emerges when less than a 180-degree inversion of its au mon school as ameeting ground for stu dents from diverse economic, cultural, and thentic counterpart. This, I believe, becomes we consider what educational purpose is implicit in each kind of reform. In the case readily apparent when their essential char racial backgrounds - would be lost, as so of test-based reform, the purpose of edu acteristics are considered side by side. ciety itself became ever more fragmented. -Authentic, standards-based reform in cation is raising test scores. In the case of Such a scenario would represent a serious volves teachers, parents, and others as ac authentic, standards-based reform, the pur health of our democracy. threat to the tive participants in developing and refining pose is enabling all students to achieve as The real potential of authentic, stan common learning standards. Test-based re much of their creative, intellectual, and so dards-based reform can be seen most clear cial potential as possible. Thus the goal of ly against this disturbing backdrop. We live form uses high-stakes tests, written in se as single cret by expert psychometricians, authentic, standards-based reform is to pre in a time when both politicians and the gen pare students to live successfully and con indicators for deciding whether students eral public are demanding educational ac tribute actively in their communities. countability. Public opinion research shows are promoted or graduate, thereby making the tests the real standards. that,while the public favors public schools * Authentic standards describe what all over publicly funded vouchers, patience is The Wrong Question students should be learning at each level wearing thin.'2 Public schools must dem to high-stakes As opposition testing (not necessarily at each grade level). Test onstrate their ability to help students across based reform makes the scores on standard mounts and as negative consequences pile the socioeconomic spectrum achieve high ing students and their teachers accountable for performance against student learning

Majorities of qualityeducational results. support move the thepublicandof teachers But, accord ment toward high standards. ing topoll resultsrecentlyreleasedby the American Associationof SchoolAdminis trators,majority of voters reject the idea a measure thata single test can accurately students'educationalgrowth.'3 360 KAPPAN PHIDELTA

at ized testsfor students specificgrade lev up, observers and policy makers are be we els, ineffect,theonlymeaningfulstandards. ginning toask, "Are moving tooquick But standards, ly?"1l4 this is thewrong question, and * Under a systemof authentic an misreading of the theschool system investsheavily inhigh it represents extreme for quality professional development teach problem at hand.The problem is not one or in ersand administrators an effort to sup of pacing, quantity, timing.It is aprob port their work in teachingto thestandards. lem of replacing a reformaimed at sys teach temicallyenrichinganddeepening teach reform, Under a systemof test-based

ing and learning with a reform aimed at the ability to take standardized tests. It is the former who will be rewarded in their raising test scores, regardless of the im pact on the quality of instruction or on the personal and professional lives after grad number of students being pushed out of uation, when test-taking skills will no longer be relevant. schools and onto the streets. At whatever point a high-stakes, standardized test is im posed as the sole basis for determining stu A Personal Note dent success, that test will replace what I hope my use of the "evil twin" meta ever content and performance standards phor helps bring some clarity to this time were previously in place. It's something like a computer virus that erases and re of rampant educational confusion. But I places everything thatwas stored on one's want to be clear about what I don't mean, as well as what I do mean, in using thismet hard drive. aphor. I do not intend to call any individu We could realize significant progress in public education if the proponents of als "evil." I believe that the tendency to demonize people who hold opposing points standards-based reform joined hands with of view has a coarsening influence on civil the critics of high-stakes testing and effec tively outlawed the use of high-stakes tests discourse and so is bad for democracy it self. What I refer to as the "evil twin" is as sole indicators of student success. More a set of actions and the consequences I be over, such amove need not lead to tooth less standards. It is possible to require all lieve these actions can have and are hav students tomeet a set of rigorous standards ing on children and on schools. Determin ing whether such consequences are intend in order to graduate from high school with ed or unintended requires discerning what out using a single test as the means of de is atwork in the hearts and minds of many termining whether those standards have people -who are crafting and enacting such been met. We should be interested in stu policies. The human hearts and minds of dents who can produce high-quality work others, I believe, are simply too complex rather than students who have mastered

and too inaccessible to be read as a book. But I see themetaphor as useful in bring ing out how sharp the contrast actually is between the two movements. At the same time, it's important to acknowledge the com plexity of the relationship between the au thentic, standards-based reform and test based reform. As I noted above, these twins are often essentially joined at the hip.What Imean by that is thatmost of the districts that Iwould point to as exemplars of au thentic, standards-based reform are oper ating within state systems thatmore or less exemplify test-based reform.

The Theory inAction
The task of sorting through the com plexities of conflicting policy contexts is daunting, but when it is done, what emerg es is evidence of what the authentic twin in a is already beginning to accomplish number of school districts. Iwould point, for example, toDistrict 2 inNewYork City, which has posted some exemplary early results in its efforts to institute best prac tices. This story has been extensively docu mented by Richard Elmore, Deanna Bur

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Issues Policy Brief No. 12,Washing ton, D.C, October 2000, pp. 1-12; and Scott Justus et al., Student Achievement and Reform Trends in 13 Urban Districts (Washington, D.C: The McKenzie "Building American a New Structure Win

ney, and others, and I recommend that read reform can play a vital role in the future of public education. They will be more like ers explore theirwork."5Anthony Alvarado, ly to succeed in this critical task if increas who was the chief architect of the reform effort in District 2, has since become the ing numbers of states adopt approaches to standards and accountability chancellor of instruction in San Diego. that look That district is now moving forward rap more like Rhode Island's SALT and less idly along the same lines and has devel like a brawny and aggressive twin wield oped a unique "blueprint" for interven ing a high-stakes weapon. tion and for support of students who are failing tomeet standards. 1. Richard Elmore has observed, "We will get stan As uneven as some of the early results dards-based reform. But what kind is in doubt. Will may be at this stage, I would point to a it be the version that proponents envision or a cor evil twin?" See Rich rupted and poorly-thought-out number of other districts whose experi ard F. Elmore, "Building aNew Structure for School ence suggests the potential of standards 1999-2000, Leadership," American Educator, Winter based reform: Aurora, Colorado; Clovis, p. 8. California; Edmonds, Washington; Min 2. See, for example, Maureen Kelleher, "Dropout Rate Climbs as Schools Dump Truants," Catalyst, neapolis; and the three districts constitut June 1999; and Walter M. Haney, Supplementary ing the El Paso Collaborative forAcadem Skills Ex Report on Texas Assessment of Academic as well as the Houston In ic Excellence, it Test (TAAS-X) (Los Angeles: Mexican American dependent School District."6And there are Legal Defense and Education Fund, 30 July 1999). certainly others. 17 3. Sandra Feldman, "Where We Stand," Education For an example of a state accountabil Week, 12 July 2000, p. 17. 4. Jay P. Heubert and Robert M. Hauser, eds., High ity system that balances the public's need Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion, and Gradu for individual student and school-level re ation (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, sults against the school's need for support 1999), p. 15. and for a genuine measure of autonomy 5. Quoted inElaine Sciolino, "Key Missile Parts Are in achieving those results, I would point Left Untested as Booster Fails," New York Times, 9 July 2000. readers to Rhode Island's SALT (School 6. Scott Thompson, Shift "Shared Accountability ? for Learning and Teach Accountability to Helping Hands," Strate ing from Heavy-Handed ing), an accountability program that gath gies, May 2000, p. 1. ers extensive qualitative as well as quan 7. Donald B. Gratz, "High Standards forWhom?," titative data on school quality for the pur Phi Delta Kappan, May 2000, p. 684. 8. See, for example, Lynn Olson, "Worries of a Stan pose of supporting continuous, standards dards 'Backlash' Grow," Education Week, 5 April based school improvement."8 Each school 2000, p. 1 ;and Drew Lindsay, "Contest," Education in the state engages in self-study and devel Week, 5 April 2000, p. 30. For more information on ops a school improvement plan. Periodi to test-based reform, see Al the growing opposition cally, a team of teachers, parents, and ad fie Kohn, "Fighting the Tests: A Practical Guide to ministrators from outside the district spends Rescuing Our Schools," pp. 348-57, this Kappan. 9. The evidence along these lines is enormous. One a full week in the school, reviewing the self is a study conducted by the Center good example study and other data, shadowing students, on what it calls the Assessment for Performance visiting classes, and interviewing teachers, "90/90/90 Schools." These are schools inwhich more parents, and administrators. The results of than 90% of students qualify for a subsidized lunch, this external review are written up as a re more than 90% of students are ethnic minorities, and more than 90% of students still achieved "high ac port containing conclusions, recommenda tions, and commendations. The full report ademic standards, according to independently con ducted tests of academic achievement." The results is read to the entire faculty by the chair of of this study appear inDouglas B. Reeves, Account the visit on the Monday following the visit. Learn (Denver, Colo.: Advanced ability in Action School districts that areworking to ful ing Press, 1999), chap. 19. See also "Doing What fill the original promise of standards-based Works: Improving Big City School Districts," AFT

Group, May 2000). 10. Richard F. Elmore, for School Leadership," ter 1999-2000, p. 8.


in this paragraph 11.1 credit the observations to Phillip Schlechty, who outlined a similar scenario in a keynote to the Panasonic speech he delivered Foundation's Leadership Associates tober 1999. He has since written up the epilogue to his new book, Shaking house (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Program inOc this scenario in

12. Jean Johnson, Assignment finished Business of Education Reform (New York: Public Agenda, 1995). 13. Lynn Olson, "Poll Shows Public Concern over Emphasis on Standardized Tests," Education Week, 12 July 2000, p. 14. "High-Stakes State Education so Chris Pipho, 9. Testing: Too Much? Too Soon?," Leader, Winter 2000, p. 1. See al "The Sting of High-Stakes Testing and Accountability," Phi Delta Kappan, May 2000, pp. 645-46.

Up the School 2001). Incomplete: The Un

15. Richard F. Elmore with Deanna Burney, Invest and In ing in Teacher Learning: Staff Development in Community School Dis structional Improvement trict #2, New York City (New York: National Com on Teaching and America's mission Future and the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, 1997); F. Elmore and Deanna "School Burney, Variation and Systemic Instructional Improvement in Community School District #2, New York City," Richard paper prepared for High Performance unpublished Learning Communities Project, Learning Research and Development of Pittsburgh, Center, University October in 1997; idem, "Continuous Improvement District #2, New York City," unpub Community lished paper prepared for High Performance Learn and ing Communities Project, Learning Research of Pittsburgh, De Center, University Development cember 1998; "District 2, NYC: Teacher Learning Comes First," Strategies, August 1998, pp. 11-13; and Liz Gewirtzman and Elaine Fink, Realignment of Policies & Resources (Chicago: Cross City Cam paign for Urban School Reform, 2000). 16. "Aurora, CO: A Long, Bumpy Road," Strate 1998, pp. 4-10; "Clovis, CA: Thirty gies, August Years and Counting ? Im Sustaining Continuous provement," Strategies, July 1999, pp. 4-7; "Minne Assessments," apolis: Aligning Strategies, August 1998, pp. 13-14; Stephen Fink and Scott Thomp un son, "Standards and Whole System Change," reform in Ed published paper on standards-based monds, Washington, prepared for Panasonic Foun dation, December 1998; M. Susana Navarro and Di ana S. Natalicio, "Closing the Achievement Gap in El Paso: A Collaboration for K-16 Renewal," Phi Delta Kappan, April 1999, pp. 597-601; "Houston, TX: Aiming High," Strategies, May 2000, pp. 3-6; and Rod Paige, "No Simple Answer," Education Week, 8 November 2000, p. 48. (Strategies can be accessed at index.htm.) 17. See, for example, "Doing What Works." = School 18. "Rhode Island: Accountability provement," "Coming 7-8. K Strategies, to Judgment,"


2000, pp. 3-6; and May Strategies, May 2000, pp.



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