Standards-based vs. Standardized

I was an early adopter of standard-based grading. As far as I know, I was the only secondary teacher in my district using an SBG approach when I started. This led to many conversations with my colleagues, administration, and parents. When I explained the system, that my goal was increased transparency, and that I desired to help students persevere rather than give up, I rarely had anyone have a problem with the approach. Indeed, I remember one instance when a parent, who happened to be the principal of one of the high schools in the district, asked for some insight into the approach. I replied with a lengthy email that he then asked if he could forward to his faculty. I was able to help people understand the utility of SBG. However, we may have gone too far. 

When I was doing SBG in the K-12 level we had particular learning outcomes we had to meet, but assessment was still very much up to individual teachers, which means I wrote my own standards and developed my own assessments. I still write my own standards as a college professor. Because of this freedom, I am constantly trying to refine my standards, to better account for the fundamental learnings my students need and explore subtle changes in language that encourage students to continually move forward. Of course, I can do all of these things without standards, but if I am allowed to modify my asssessment scheme alongside my instructional strategies, the trend toward continuous improvement is likely more holistic.

The lack of freedom in many contemporary districts in the name of SBG is troubling. The deprofessionalization of teaching is going to backfire. I appreciate the efforts of standards documents to be complete and flexible, but the way these documents are being utilized in districts handcuffs teachers. Making all teachers teach the same standards on the same day and assess standards in the same way is not SBG, it is standardization. Standardization is a product of our technological society (think assembly line). Indeed, many SBG systems are a return to, rather than a departure from, the factory model in which students are widgets.  Many criterion-based systems will end the same way. In these systems, not only is the technological value of standardization privileged, but efficiency takes center stage. If we truly believe learning to be a never-ending process of development, then standardization and efficiency are curious goals. Utilitarianism is a poor god to guide educational endeavors. 

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