Susan Riley | June 2013

The Difference between Standards and Standardization

Every once in a while we all slam into a brick wall.  We blink a few times and realize that the knowledge we had taken for granted actually makes a huge difference to our current situation.  We shake our heads and wonder why we didn’t see it before.  At the most recent CAFE event at Towson University, my brick wall arrived in the form of the impeccable Olivia Gude.  She gave a keynote about the connection that the arts make to the Common Core and made a single statement that caused me to stop dead in my tracks:

There is a difference between standards and standardization.

Look at that sentence again.  It is magical in its simplicity and its impact upon the teaching that we all do each day.  We all get so caught up in running and maintaining a fast pace in the race towards Common Core that it is incredibly easy to forget that having standards by which to frame our work does not mean that we are standardizing the work itself.

I think so many artists and teachers fear that Common Core and the Core Arts Standards mean that we are standardizing the arts into a bland box that looks the same everywhere.  This just isn’t the case.  Instead, the Core has the effect of advocating for the arts by maintaining that there are basic, fundamental skills and processes that are essential to creating, applying and performing any artform.  Within these standards, we can see stepping stones by which to measure the progress of growth through an art (also known as indicators).

What about this means that the arts are being standardized?

We’re not trying to regulate the arts, or any other subject for that matter.  We are setting a bar of expectations and providing the steps which help students reach mastery of those skills and processes.  And this is where true Art begins.

Once students master those standards that we set, they can begin to use their knowledge and skills to create new works that connect and extend their understandings.  Once students reach this level, they are able to create Art that shares a true expression of their personal meaning of an idea which can then impact the world around them.

What’s truly remarkable about having and using standards is that they lead to the exact opposite destination of standardization.

So instead of fighting common standards for the arts which connect to the Common Core, why not embrace the powerful opportunity these standards present?  Let’s use the frame of the standards to break the glass ceiling of standardization.  Now that’s a true revelation.

What are your thoughts on the Standards?  Do you think they help or hurt the arts?

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan