Teaching and Learning with Standards. (Literacy Links)

By Asselin, Marlene | Teacher Librarian, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Teaching and Learning with Standards. (Literacy Links)


Asselin, Marlene, Teacher Librarian


All educators today negotiate their teaching and their students' learning around standards. In 1983, a report on the low levels of student literacy achievement in America raised public alarm about curriculum and instruction in the country's schools. Consequently, A nation at risk incited a new method of educational reform, standards-based education, intended to raise student literacy levels. Whereas literacy was the original centerpiece of this reform, the standards movement now encompasses all subjects including that associated with school libraries--information literacy.

The rise of standards-based education: Measuring accountability

Historically, teachers were assumed to be teaching their students what they needed to know through the use of prescribed texts. Other measures such as number of instructional hours were also fairly regarded as adequate accountability for student learning. Similarly, school libraries relied on circulation statistics as evidence of their educational value. Some districts used output measures such as competency tests and college admissions tests; however, these did not directly reveal what students were learning in classrooms. In sum, there were too many assumptions about what was being taught, and ultimately, what students were learning. All of this uncertainty about what was going on in classrooms came to a head with the publication of A nation at risk. The public, now aroused, wanted a means of ensuring that students were learning what they needed to know to be successful in today's world.

The standards movement in education was seen as the way of guaranteeing that a specific curriculum was taught and was introduced to the public in another government publication, National standards in American education: A citizen's guide (Ravitz, 1985). Assuming that education can be improved from the bottom up, standards were meant to provide clear measures of teaching and learning. Standards are "both a goal ... and a measure of progress toward that goal ... that tell everyone in the educational system what is expected of them; assessments [of standards] provide information about how well expectations have been met" (Ravitch, 1995). Following the introduction of content standards (e.g, NCTE/IRA, 1996) were student performance standards describing a three- to four-level range of abilities (below, meeting, and exceeding expectations) within each grade.

Standards-based education has been fraught with debate (Apple, 1996; Ohanian, 1999). While it promises a level playing field for students across educational systems, critics argue that standards can further stratify society and misrepresent educational realities: "... the results of this movement will be that it will be captured by neo-liberal and neoconservative tendencies and used for purposes whose large scale effects will be damaging to those with the least economic, political, and cultural power in the United States ... many of these kinds of proposals are based on little understanding of the daily lives of teachers and the already intensified conditions under which they work" (Apple, 1996).

Teaching and learning information literacy with standards in the school library

Apple's statement succinctly captures what teacher-librarians are facing with the widespread introduction of standards related to the school library including content and performance standards of information literacy. …

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