The climate of education in the 21st century has become one of accountability and standardization. In this climate, teachers are expected to not only be experts in their content, but they are also expected to understand the needs of all learners and how to differentiate instruction to meet those needs. Herein lies the paradox: Teachers are expected to differentiate while at the same time preparing learners for standardized assessment in a standardized curriculum that supposedly measures educational "success." As Agnello (2008) suggests, this "testing craze, although illustrated amply to be detrimental to education and many learners, has been normalized" (p. 113). The normalization of this one-size-fits-all educational model poses a great challenge for teacher educators. There are decisions being made by policy makers and legislators over which teachers have no control. Therefore, it is important that teachers find some semblance of control in implementing best practices in an effort to counter-balance the detriment that standardization brings through such policies as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
Teacher educators can respond to this challenge by preparing future teachers to embrace this paradox. Teachers are under pressure to ensure that their students meet the standardized expectations of education. The standardization of education begins at the national level with the Four Pillars of the No Child Left Behind Act (U. S. Dept. of Education, 2004). In order for states to receive federal funding for schooling, they are required to adhere to the cumbersome demands outlined in the four pillars of NCLB: Stronger Accountability for Results, More Freedom for States and Communities, Proven Education Methods, and More Choices for Parents.
An example of the reality of standardization at the state level comes from a program called "Race to the Top," in which states compete for federal funds in an effort to improve schools. In this program, states are invited to submit proposals that seek to implement significant improvements to schools. Although the award in this competition is federal funding, it is the state that submits the proposal, and within the state, then, education is standardized according to the tenets of the proposal. Unlike NCLB, where the federal government mandates educational policy, "Race to the Top" provides federal funding to states that propose their own policies, which school districts are required to carry out, despite their lack of input in the proposal itself. Tennessee, one of the first two states to receive such funding, was awarded $501 million. On paper, the state of Tennessee was a clear winner; however, one year later, when schools were required to implement the proposed changes, it became evident to teachers and principals that this award came with many strings.
For example, one of the policies requires all teachers of all content areas to prepare students for standardized testing in math and language arts. As noted in an article in the New York Times, "Because there are no student test scores with which to evaluate over half of Tennessee's teachers--kindergarten to third-grade teachers; art, music and vocational teachers--the state has created a bewildering set of assessment rules. Math specialists can be evaluated by their school's English scores, music teachers by the school's writing scores" (Winerip, 2011). The article also reports on the frustrations of teachers and principals alike in implementing the new changes mandated by the state, especially in terms of how teachers are evaluated based on these new policies.
Tennessee's new policies require that all teachers be evaluated based on student standardized test scores, even if their content area or grade level is not tested. For instance, a first grade teacher will be evaluated on the scores of a 5th grade test. At the high school level, an art teacher will be evaluated based on math and/or English/Language Arts test scores. …