Some teachers are asking, should our district be requiring us all to use the same assessments and teach the same thing? Do we need to have a "standardized curriculum" and "common assessments" in order to meet the new state standards?

Answer:

The goal of the effort to implement the new standards and content expectations is to increase the achievement of all students, to better prepare students for post secondary education and the work place. That goal should be kept at the center of your and your district's thinking.

Creating a standard curriculum with common assessments for all students will likely lower student achievement, since you will not be able to adequately target the ability, needs, and interests of all of your students with a standardized curriculum. Advanced students will be held back and weaker students will be left behind. This is not what it means to raise standards. Moreover, quality English teaching not only requires that curriculum be meaningful and challenging for all students, but that the passions, special strengths and interests of your teaching staff be built on.

For this reason the other authors of the new standards, the professional reviewers of the standards, and over 50 of the professors of English education in Michigan oppose efforts some districts are making to "standardize" language arts teaching. We believe that those individuals making this kind of effort are simply not well informed about the new language arts standards and the nature of teaching of English at the secondary level. Perhaps, for some, there is confusion caused by the terminology, but, as English teachers can explain to people, "standardization" is NOT the same thing as "high standards."

In Michigan, at the high school level, the language arts state test will be the ACT test plus a MEAP "wrap around." Neither of these tests require that students have experienced a "standard curriculum with common assessments." All of us should be concerned about the implications for your district's test scores if you end up, in fact, forcing everyone to follow the "one size fits all" approach.

For the same reason, we support multiple paths through the high school curriculum. Having elective courses may be an ideal approach, as long as these courses set high expectations, and give students the chance to explore areas of interest in a focused and thoughtful way. Indeed, this kind of focused approach is one of the strongest ways to prepare students for the state tests, and, more importantly, for college and work place success.

Instead of a "cookie cutter" approach where all students, courses, and teachers are treated as being the same, you and your colleagues need to do the more complex and difficult work of actually thinking carefully about your strengths and interests as teachers, the areas of most important engagement for your students, and how you can, over the course of four years, address the new standards in ways that will be truly relevant and involving. Complex questions of individualized instruction, ability grouping, tracking and detracking need to be considered. Language arts skills are learned best when teachers are informed and passionate about curriculum they have made, rather than simply taking some standardized thing off of the shelf. Course curriculum and assessment needs to evolve every semester, as teachers continue to develop and refine the content and method of their teaching.

You and your colleagues must not sacrifice your professional knowledge about how students will best succeed by agreeing to put in place simplistic, but misguided "quick fix" strategies such as common curriculum and cross course common assessment strategies. Learning the language arts well is more complex and individual than that, as the new Michigan English language arts content standards clearly emphasize.

You and the teachers in your building are capable of more in-depth and creative thinking -- and will you need to do that kind of thinking if you are really serious about meaningful learning and student success, raising expectations, and meeting the new state standards.

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