‘Standardization’ Is Not Always A Bad Word: A Sometimes Unpopular Opinion In Education

Birenbaum et al.’s (2015) report on international trends of assessment for learning serves as a great starting point for a conversation around integrating and interpreting valid evidence in schools and classrooms by providing international context to our national and provincial issues. It is interesting to note some of the same work being tackled around the globe with regards to shifting the mindsets of educators and their use of assessment. In Australia, for example, despite the efforts of Assessment for Learning (AfL), they are still tackling irregular and inconsistent use of formative practices by teachers across the country, fuelled by the collective mindsets of different educational jurisdictions. Furthermore, “to meet the accountability demands imposed, many Australian teachers appear to be directing more attention towards student preparation for summative type tests than to AfL strategies” (p. 120). Similar inconsistencies exist around assessment use in Canada where education is directed by the provinces and territories. In Alberta, teachers experience accountability pressures with regards to Diploma Exams and sometimes this causes them to fall into old assessment habits, suppress their willingness to be creative and even ignore emerging research around maximizing student achievement. A major epiphany for some teachers will be when they realize that preparing for a Diploma Exam per se and practicing best assessment practices do not have to be polarized concepts.

The value of standardized testing and assessment guidelines is further realized when educators acknowledge the barriers that exist for them around integration of valid assessment in the classroom. “Several researchers have noticed gaps in the capacity of teachers to implement rigorous assessment for and as learning programs in their classrooms (DeLuca et al., 2012; Klinger et al., 2012). These gaps are attributed to challenges related to teacher professional learning opportunities in assessment, practical barriers (e.g., time, class size, resources), and limited research on the nuances of integrating assessment for learning in diverse classroom contexts” (Birenbaum et al, 2015, p. 124).

The highly divisive and contested topic of classroom assessment practices, what constitutes valid evidence, and the mixed messaging teachers get from various jurisdictions and communities also stands in the way of enacting positive change in some schools and classrooms. Green et al. (2006) were arguing the need for ethical and standardized guidelines surrounding assessment practices fifteen years ago when a biology teacher in the Midwest USA failed half his class for teaching and divided a town. “In another instance, the state law enforcement division in a southern USA community investigated a teacher after she used in her classroom some commercially available test preparation materials that are designed to simulate the type of items and subject matter in the state test” (p. 999). Green at al.’s suggestion for guidelines is not only to assist the teacher in navigating effective integration and interpretation of valid assessment evidence for and as learning, but also to ensure the teacher is supported by the whole will of an educational community, and not left hung out to dry, as in these American cases.

Tierney, Simon and Charland (2011) latch on to the idea that we can find great variances in assessment practices and what constitutes valid assessment data in Canadian classrooms, even though many teachers in their study subscribe to the idea of “fairness,” and all the unexamined assumptions they attach to it. “For students’ grades to accurately reflect student achievement, teachers needed a better understanding of essential principles and clearer definitions of key concepts, such as the meaning of most consistent” (p. 224). Despite any initial resistance one might have toward the notion of “standardized” assessment and guidelines, the truth of the matter is that when designed correctly and based on credible evidence these guidelines will support teachers with assessment, benefit students and does not replace the professional judgement aspect to interpreting evidence teachers will continue to rely on, which is entrenched in Alberta’s Teaching Quality Standard (2018). “Detailed direction could never address all of the situations that might arise in grading” (Tierney, Simon & Charland, 2011, p. 224).


Birenbaum, M., DeLuca, C., Earl, L., Heritage, M., Klenowski, V., Looney, A., Smith, K., Timperley, H.,  Volante, L., & Wyatt-Smith, C. (2015). International trends in the implementation of assessment  for learning: Implications for policy and practice. Policy Futures in Education. 13(1). 117-140 https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/doi/pdf/10.1177/1478210314566733  

DeLuca, C. (2012). Preparing teachers for the age of accountability: Toward a framework for assessment education. Teacher Education Yearbook XXI: A Special Issue of Action in Teacher Education. 34(5/6), 576-591.

Green, S. K., Johnson, R. L., Kim, D., Pope, N. S. (2007). Ethics in classroom assessment practices. Issues  and attitudes. Teaching and Teacher Education. 23(7). 999-1011   http://ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ770306&site=ehost-live 

Klinger, DA, Volante, L, DeLuca, C (2012) Building teacher capacity within the evolving assessment culture in Canadian Education. Policy Futures in Education, Special Issue: Developing Sustainable Assessment Cultures in School Learning Organisations. 10(4): 447–460.

Tierney, R. D., Simon, M., & Charland, J. (2011). Being fair: Teachers’ interpretations of principles for standards-based grading. The Educational Forum. 75(3). 210-227. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131725.2011.577669

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