Peer Talk: Standardized Assessment: Bridging the Gap between Curriculum and Teaching Practice

Waishing Lam

Standardized assessment is one of the most discussed topics within the education space, especially amongst teachers. Standardized assessment is often tied to the teaching and learning paradigm of standardized management, which aligns student learning to government mandated standardized tests, often worth a large portion of a student’s grade. Standardized assessment is a topic that everyone has a stake in — from the student and the tax-paying parent to the Minister of Education (or U.S. Secretary of Education). I’d like to discuss the importance of educational assessment and how we can bridge the gap between curriculum and teaching practice to make a subtle move away from the standardized management paradigm to promote higher level thinking skills in our students.

I write this from a unique perspective; I’m a third year teacher-candidate. In any curriculum or education-related issue class, one of the topics that is continually debated is educational assessment. I’ve experienced educational assessment as a student, and now I’m experiencing it as a future teacher. Throughout my career as a student, I’ve seen the changes in our approach to standardized management, and I agree with creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson who said, “We’re attempting to fix an already broken education system.” Robinson argues that we’ve simply failed to notice students’ creativity and ingenuity and dismissed these actions as classroom disruptions as opposed to embracing the quality and turning that into a meaningful learning experience for the learner, using a constructivist approach where we take curriculum and make it more meaningful for students through active learning.

Where I’m from in Canada, there is a big push to make a subtle move away from the paradigm of standardized management, but since there is no federally mandated Minister of Education (like the U.S. Secretary of Education), the responsibility falls upon the provincial/ territorial jurisdictions to dictate respective curricular outcomes, levels of achievement, and develop standardized tests. If teachers are asked to make a move from standardized management, but the standardized management paradigm is still in use, a gap between curriculum and teaching practice obviously exists.

To draw a parallel from a U.S. perspective – In the U.S., many teachers are bound by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) implemented by the Bush administration in 2001, which stipulates that national averages must be upheld in order for a school to secure funding for resources and keeping the school open for the following academic year. Though NCLB does promote a desire to raise the overall national averages for the long term, it can be detrimental if schools don’t strictly follow the standardized management approach to prepare their students for the national exam, which begs the question, “what are we really trying to accomplish?”

Though I do admit that standardized assessment plays a role in the educational space, I think preparing students for a national exam with rote knowledge is counterproductive, and doesn’t provide many meaningful learning experiences for students. I think we’re simply losing sight of what we define ”learning” as, and how we can accomplish learning in our classrooms throughout Canada and the U.S. Both standardized testing and the paradigm of standardized management has been around for centuries, and while they both are common deciding factors for K-12 and higher education school admittance, teaching to the test shouldn’t be our dominate and only focus in the classroom.

I propose that we engage with one another and spread ideas to help to bridge that disconnect between curriculum and teachers. One way we can put this into motion is promote learning through meaningful learning experiences, where we encourage students to engage in their own learning by finding points in our curriculum where teachers allow students to inquire, critique, challenge and create through a project based approach to learning to engage in a constructivist or social learning teaching paradigm. I propose that we look at our established curriculum with critique, looking constantly for opportunities to improve upon our teaching methods by engaging more with enduring understandings and throughline questions, and key takeaways that we want students to continually reflect upon and revisit. The term ‘throughline questions’ refer to questions formed from curriculum that evoke values and attitudes in students that encourage them to inquire, critique, challenge, and create with the goal to engage students in their own learning. I’d also suggest that we as teachers look for ways we can take part in reflective practice to better ourselves as educators and truly understand why we do what we do, and how we know what we know about curriculum. The famous adage “curriculum as lived, not planned” speaks volumes in this context.

In a social studies curriculum class I took this winter, I looked specifically at how to better engage students in the topic of social studies in the classroom. One article by Professor of Education Dr. Kent den Heyer (2009) has been something I continually revisit when I take part in reflective practices. In his article “Implicated and Called Upon,” students are “implicated and called upon” to make connections between social studies content and the component of the ”social” — which in this case are societal implications and personally lived experiences. Through this practice, students are able to not simply regurgitate information in the paradigm of standardized management, but are able to actually embrace some of the ideals presented in the constructivist and social learning paradigms by analyzing the issue and proposing a solution to the problem to improve the quality of life standards for those affected (den Heyer, 2009, p. 30). By creating meaningful learning experiences with the use of throughline questions and enduring understandings, den Heyer (2009) states that “We’re applying their ‘disciplinary minds’ to a problem in the form of a question,” (p. 31) and hopefully making connections between subject matter and the social with other subjects learned in school, thus promoting the beginnings of interdisciplinary learning. As den Heyer (2009) says in closing:

The goal here is to assist students to become steeped in ethical contemplation and to participate more knowingly in the questions of social life with an interpretation of the ways we are all implicated in the material conditions that shape what we know and how we claim to know. (p. 34)

Though I admit, this process won’t be easy and won’t simply happen overnight, it can happen if we make attempts to bridge the gap between curriculum and teaching practice by creating more meaningful learning experiences for students to inquire, critique, challenge and create in our classrooms.



Waishing M. Lam
University of Alberta • Edmonton, AB, Canada
Bachelor of Education in Secondary Education with a major in Social Studies | Minor in Career & Technology Studies (CTS): Business, Administration Finance | Junior

Waishing Lam is a third year undergraduate studying at the University of Alberta studying towards a Bachelor of Education in Secondary Education with a major in Social Studies, and a minor in Career & Technology Studies (CTS): Business, Administration Finance. Waishing finds passion in both education and business, but felt that becoming an educator first above all, is a great way to make a difference in the lives of others. Waishing first started to become interested in business in 2009 through Junior Achievement as a student in the well known “JA Company Program” for four years. Through his four years as a student participant in JA, Waishing has won numerous awards and earned a certification. In 2009, he completed the Dale Carnegie Generation Next Course that teaches effective communications, public speaking and human relations, and in 2012, he was named Company Program President of the Year, a Next Generation Leaders Forum Delegate, and his student company was named Teamwork Company of the Year.

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den Heyer, K. (2009). Implicated and called upon: Challenging an educated position of self,    others, knowledge and knowing as things to acquire. Critical Literacy: Theories and Practices, 3(1), 26-35.