Standardized Curriculum, Assessment and Meaningful Student Involvement

Over the course of the last 15 years, I have repeatedly heard Meaningful Student Involvement is largely incompatible with the continued drive for standardized learning, teaching and assessment in Western education. As the student engagement specialist in Washington’s education agency, I studied the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 shortly after it was released.

As that law was representative of a lot of the standardized education movement around the world at that time, my own findings showed me possibilities, not problems. I found that many roadblocks came from the interpretation of the law rather than the law itself. There were even specific provisions within the law which, for the first time in the history of United States education, made student involvement a federal mandate in some areas.


In 2009, the United States’ accountability efforts took another turn, this time led by the National Governor’s Association (NGA) rather than the federal government. That year, NGA pushed out the “Common Core State Standards”, or CCSS. Quickly adopted by almost every state in the nation, the CCSS was also advocated for by dozens of national education associations and supported with federal education money.

Today, while still in effect in dozens of states, there is a growing belief that the CCSS may be stifling the goal of educating every student effectively. Rather than argue the validity of having common standards for learning, teaching and assessment though, I want to continue to identify places where Meaningful Student Involvement can have the most effect in education. Examining the CCSS shows there is still a lot of room for infusing this approach.

Issues Between Student Voice and Common Core

When they consider the question of student voice and standards, many educators and researchers quickly jump to how student voice is engaged through standards. That’s one area to consider, but not the whole picture. Instead, there are three primary areas to consider: Planning, implementation and evaluation.

Where are students engaged in planning education standards?

Education standards did not come from the belly of a beast or immediately sprout forth from the minds of experts. Instead, there have been trials and errors since the 1980s and before. This whole time, however, students have not been routinely engaged as partners in planning education standards. They can be key partners in identifying what standards should be, how they should be worded, when and where they can be implemented, and what or whether anything should be done to assess them.

How are students engaged in implementing standards?

Some states, including my home state of Washington, that have engaged students in teaching other students about standards. This is merely part of the answer to this question though. When students are active partners in implementing standards, they are participating in state and district policymaking; grant implementation; school site councils and curriculum committees; and classroom teaching. They are thoroughly infused throughout these processes in a sustained and continuous fashion that mitigates the year-over-year turnover of the student population. They also consciously embrace student diversity.

When are students engaged in evaluating standards?

Standards-based education doesn’t subsist on classroom action alone, although that is a large part of it. Instead, standards affect the entirety of the education system, from federal, state and local policy through classroom and building practice to interpersonal and systematic procedures that are part of schools everyday. Student/adult partnerships woven throughout these activities embody Meaningful Student Involvement, allowing room for many students to sustain active, impacting roles throughout evaluation and assessment.

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