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What are academic standards?
What's different about academic standards?
What do standards have to do with my classroom?
How have standards developed since they began in the early 1990s?
Another perspective
What are the benefits of academic standards?
How can standards help students to learn better?
What do critics of standards have to say?

What do critics of standards have to say?

Critics of standards tend to fall into three major camps: One group worries that standards will force teachers to "teach to tests" and focus on rote learning rather than on more creative and individualized education. Another group is concerned about where standards are set: too high, and low achievers (particularly in disadvantaged communities) will become discouraged and drop out; too low, and high achievers will not be challenged properly. The third group has no objection to standards per se, but believes that they should be set by local school boards, not by federal or state authorities.

Those who worry about "teaching to tests" express many of the same concerns leveled at standardized testing in general: that it measures test-taking ability rather than real-life skills, that it is biased against students from disadvantaged backgrounds, or that it promotes memorization of facts and interpretations rather than creative thinking. Though these concerns may be valid when related to some of the standardized tests used at benchmark points, standards-based teaching does not only or even primarily rely on such tests. Achievement is also measured by testing skill on writing or other assignments where the teacher and the students decide in advance what type of work is good enough to meet the standard. The students are given examples of such work to view before they do their own work.

Fears about the level of the standards are also common. For example, Richard Rothstein argued recently in THE NEW YORK TIMES (Nov. 10, 1999) that supporters of a common standard for inner-city schools and suburban schools have gone too far in attacking the idea that poor children can't learn. "To counter the earlier myth," he writes, "We have developed a new, equally dangerous one: that social class no longer matters in education and that all children, regardless of background, can achieve to the same high standards if only schools demand it.... Can we avoid the defeatist myth that schools make no difference, without bouncing to the other extreme, that they make all the difference?" Rothstein and similar critics argue that holding schools with largely poor populations to the same standards as suburban schools is unfair to both: it penalizes the students in the poorer districts for factors beyond their control while not challenging the students in the suburban schools.

On somewhat the same lines, critics worry that holding students to standards -- especially at points where promotion is the issue, such as grades 4 and 8 -- will cause students to become discouraged and drop out of school, especially in heavily minority schools where scores traditionally have not been high. These fears are usually expressed when state assessments based on standards produce low scores the first time out.

Finally, some critics of standards don't object to the idea of standards as public statements of what students should know and be able to do -- they object to who makes those statements. Such critics believe standards should arise locally as community aspirations, rather than be prescribed as national policy. They tend to use words such as "impose" when they describe how standards are adopted. They fear that the federal government will meddle in decisions that should be made on a local level and take the power away from parents and local school boards to decide what children should and should not learn. Some members of the Coalition of Essential Schools 1 take this position.


Workshop: Teaching to Academic Standards
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