Today's news juxtaposed two stories about Utah K-12 education. One coming out of our legislative session described bills that will reduce the number of standardized tests required of Utah students. Gone will be criterion-referenced tests in several grades, and the UBSCT--a test that all high school students have to pass in order to receive a diploma--looks to be on its way out as well.
The other, featured here, describes a national effort, of which Utah is a part, to describe "standards" which should be common in all English and Math classes across the US. The standards are essentially the outline of a curriculum--thing to know, things to have read, types of problems to be solved. Utah is a party to this effort.
I am not sure how to feel about these changes, especially taken together. Ten years ago I would have been happy, feeling that the effort to define a common body of knowledge would aid society, and ensure that when students got to my college classes, I could count on them having been taught certain things. And I clearly remember being angry at the rise of standardized tests with No Child Left Behind.
But today I am much less certain, for at least two reasons. One, any system of education concerned about learning has to have a set of outcomes--things a student should know and do. As bad as they are, tests like the UBSCT measured certain outcomes.
Second, and more importantly, I think schools can learn a lot more about what works if student learning is measured by a common standard. I lecture, you encourage group work. Which approach is successful for which students/ We can only know if we agree on the goal.
Put in the vernacular, though, it sounds worse. Really what I am saying is that given the option, I would prefer to teach the way I think best, but teach to the test.