Standards-Based Learning is Not Standardization



It is worth mentioning here that standards and standardization are not always the same; the former refers to the quality that the demonstration of learning must exhibit, regardless of format, whereas the latter embeds the quality by making the demonstration of learning universal. - Tom Schimmer

Sometimes when I talk to people about standards-based classrooms the push back I receive is this fear that by basing grading and assessment on standards, we are forcing one-size fits all educational experiences on our students.

This could not be further from the truth. A cornerstone of standards-based learning and grading is that the student is assessed on their skills and knowledge, not the individual projects or tasks completed or graded. As a teacher, this has changed the way I plan to allow students more choice on how they present or prove they have met the standards. No longer am I creating complex tasks full of points for neatness and execution instead, I am able to offer my students a range of ways they could show me what they know and can do. Students are able to put their best work first while also having opportunities to take risks and try new things creatively that will not impact their academic achievement.

How is this done?

When you move to a standards-based classroom, the first few steps are to put the standards into student-friendly language, unpack the standards to really understand what they mean, and then create rubrics or proficiency scales to help students better understand how they can achieve mastery of that skill or knowledge for their grade level. This work has nothing to do with tasks, assignments, projects, this step has everything to do with intimately knowing your standards as a teacher so you are best able to support learners and make their goals transparent and attainable.

In doing this, it opens the door to easily allow for more individualized learning and assessment. When the rubrics you have designed are about clearly measuring a standard or skill and have nothing to do with what sort of overall product a student needs to create, you have the ability to give students far more choice in how they show what they know, you can even allow students to design their own assessments because you are no longer grading a checklist of did they complete all the tasks you asked of them, you just assess on the standard.

If you are like me and find a lot of joy in seeing kids embrace their creativity giving up assigning a grade to neatness, execution, or pretty-points might be a challenge for you. But now you can give feedback on those areas and allow students the freedom to try something new without the fear of the unknown being a detriment to their academic grade.

Standards-Based Learning Can Allow Students To Own The Learning 

Standard
Student Friendly Objectives
10.1.1. Analyze the similarities and differences in Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman views of law, reason and faith, and duties of the individual.
10.1.1 I can compare major similarities and differences in Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman views of law, reason, faith, and duties of the individual. 
When I take a state-standard, like the one listed above, I now design options for how students could be assessed on their ability to compare these two different historical groups views and beliefs. The rubric is built on just the standard so how a student chooses to show this can have endless options and it won't increase my workload if every student chooses a different way to show they have learned it because I am no assessing the task, I am only assessing mastery of the standard. 

A student could show me this in an essay, a digital poster, a Flipgrid video, a speech, a presentation, a comic book, and so on and so on, What they do to show they have learned it is now open and while I as the teacher might want to guide my students to just a few options instead of endless options, the point is that Standards-Based Grading does not mean the standardization of learning. 

The Learning Paths Differ Based on Student Need 

When you have a standards-based classroom it is much easier to individualize instruction. The learning becomes more based on student needs than anything else, the use of consistent formative assessments (that never enter your grade book) allow for you to see where students struggle and where students excel. This allows you to create different learning paths for your students, again tearing down that myth that standards-based = standardization. 

To make this happen in a traditional classroom with 40+ students I have had to shift how I approach instruction and make learning more student-centered whenever possible through the use of small-group work, station rotations, and conferencing. These are all things that take time but it is time worth taking when the depth of learning increases as students receive more consistent and purpose-driven feedback that they are able to use to improve. 


Standards-Based classrooms are not about making students all identical to each other. When done well, standards-based instruction can create classrooms that embrace the diverse needs of the learners in the room. This work and transition take time, the time, effort, and reflection it takes is probably the greatest challenge to going standards-based classrooms. But the work is worth it when students not only have more opportunities to celebrate their strengths but have greater access to the resources they need to improve when they struggle. 

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