Can you have both educational standards and personalized education?

By

February 2nd, 2016

Can you have both educational standards and personalized education?

I want to respond to comments I have heard on the topic of personalized education that say standards are the antithesis of local control, flexibility, creativity and personalization.

Obviously, if we standardized everything about education and applied that standard to all students, we would have a system much less local, creative and personal than we have today. I know it sounds absurd and it would be. When educators talk about standards, this is not what they are talking about.

The push for standards is about agreeing on a common set of definitions for the things students learn. Not that we all need to learn the same things, but if we are trying, for example, to learn the fundamentals of Algebra, we all need to know what those skills are so we can know when they are mastered and we can move on to more advanced concepts. Well-defined skill standards are essential to guide students as they progress through skills.

Traditionally, skill standards and the progression of skills were imbedded in each curriculum and textbook. It may not have been obvious, and it may not even have been accurate, but it was there. With a good textbook and a solid curriculum, students learn the skills in a reasonable order and proceed to a well-understood point of proficiency. Each student is taken on a journey to a very specific destination; no real need to know how you got there. But today, students have many resources beyond their curriculum and textbook available to help them along their journey, they have online resources, supplementals and much more. Students even have the ability to follow their own “curriculum” composed of exercises that meet their unique interests. But in this environment where you can choose any track you want to get to your destination, how will you know you are headed in the right direction? How will you know when you get there?

This is where skill standards come in.  We need the logical progression of skills in each subject and an agreed definition of the skill. With this, and only with this in place can we apply the infinite creativity of the human mind to the exercise of learning. Agreed standards are equally important to the task of determining proficiency.  Once we agree on the definition of proficiency, my experience is that psychometricians can come up with hundreds of different, and valid ways to measure each one.  After we match the right method of assessment to the right student, they can move on.

My belief, based on nearly 20 years of working to understand the most effective educational practices, is that personalizing education for each student is essential for the educational transformation we are trying to achieve.  Toward this essential goal, the only way to provide each student with a roadmap and the perspective necessary to navigate through content, exercises, experiences and assessment mechanisms that are right for each person is through an agreed set of skills definitions…standards.

I welcome your thoughts on this topic. Shawn

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