Implications of Equity and Diversity within
the Standards Movement
University of West Georgia
Recent studies have created enough documentation on the existence
of an achievement gap that it seems we should be ready to move
The first six years of the 21st Century attest to the growing diversity
within our population and schools, as well as the implications for this nation's
future successes. Now, more than ever, our educational system must consider all
of its clients. This essay looks at the problems of equity in relationship to
diversity, by analyzing the recent
standards-based movement in U.S. education.
The Achievement Gap
The emotionally charged cost of the achievement gap reality
cannot be denied. Citing legal cases that show
our march through time for the cause of
equality could prove inspiring if not for the continued
inequities made apparent through test scores. Wang
and Kovach (1996) noted that the accomplishments
of Brown "have fallen short of the vision of a universal school system
that provides all children with
equal access to education." Students are measured against publicly defined
standards of achievement rather than being compared to national norms established
by test companies. With the support of equity-focused educators like Garcia and
Pearson "the setting of standards for all children becomes a completely
open process . . . perhaps the hidden biases that have led to low level learning
for poor and culturally
diverse student populations may become more visible" (cited in Lachat, 1999,
Standards-based Reform Movement
In the growing urgency to address the needs of the future, standards-based
reform hopes to remove the guesswork of educating students by
identifying what students should know and be able to do. An approach
based on publicly defined standards of achievement instead of
standardized tests has earned the support of equity-focused educators
Eke, Garcia and Pearson in that "the setting of standards
for all children becomes a completely open process . . . perhaps
the hidden biases that have led to low level learning for poor
and culturally diverse student populations may become more visible" (cited
in Lachat, 999, p.4).
Standards-based reform is founded on content standards that
define what children should know and be able to do, and performance
standards that set specific expectations for various levels of
proficiency. Product is emphasized over process and skills in
reasoning, problem-solving, and communication over accumulation
of isolated facts. Assessment focuses on progress instead of
failure, and the use of rubrics to identify growth. Utilization
of these standards can aide: (a) state education agencies and
test developers to design statewide assessment systems; (b) teachers
to organize curriculum and instruction; (c) textbook publishers
to develop educational resources for schools; (d) teacher pre-service
and in-service programs (Lachat, 1999).
Equity and the Standards Movement
Standards could be a step in the right direction to address
Slavin's (1998) desire of building a high floor under the achievement
of all children and replacing an at-risk label with an at-promise mind
set. Equity-minded educators see the need to do so as an imperative
for the future: "We cannot have a just or peaceful society
if major segments of it see little hope for their children" (p.
8). In order to move beyond promise to fulfillment, equity and
diversity must play an integral role in development and implementation
of standards (Johnson, 1996). Lachat's (1999) assertion that
individuals involved in the standards-based movement are "committed
to a vision of society where people of different backgrounds,
cultures, and perceived abilities have equal access to a high
quality education" offers an indication that such goals
are conceivable (p. 3). Supporters like Ravitch believe the standards
movement will form an effective alliance between the frequently
combative ambitions of excellence and equity (cited in Lachat,
Educators, who are ready to jump on the reform bandwagon, believing
that standards alone will address educational inequities, should
heed Gordon's warning that "it is immoral to begin by measuring
outcomes" before we have addressed the inequities in funding,
qualified teachers and instruction, and educationally sound environments
(cited in Lachat, 1999, p. 9). As with all theoretically sound
notions, reality checks are necessary. Lachat (1999) draws on
a powerful statement from Education Watch: The 1996 Education
Trust State and National Data Book:
The problem now is one of will. Experiences
from real schools show that poor
and minority students can excel if they are
taught at high levels. But most schools don't teach all students
at the same high level
In fact, we have constructed an educational
system so full of inequities that it actually exacerbates the
challenges of race and poverty, rather than ameliorates them.
Simply put, we take students who have less to begin with and
give them less in school too. (p.9)
One has only to read Kozol's Savage Inequalities (1991)
and Amazing Grace (1995) to understand
the extent of these inequities. And realistically, some equity advocates fear
the desire for excellence will leave disadvantaged, minority,
and particularly LEP students behind, with justifications that
socio-economic realities prevent attainment of the performance
standards, followed by the accepted
lowering of these standards (McKeon, 1994; Willie, 1997). Such consideration
for equity issues prompted
the development of a framework for opportunities-to-learn (OTL) to function
within the standards construct (Stevens, 1996). The framework consists of the
1. The quality and availability of curricula, instructional
programs, and instructional materials;
2. The extent to which curriculum, instruction, and assessment
align with standards that reflect high expectations for students;
3. Teacher capacity to provide high-quality instruction;
4. Financial and programmatic resources that support high levels
of learning, including technology, laboratories, and school libraries;
5. Teacher and administrator access to sustained, long-term
6. A safe and secure learning environment;
7. Parent and community involvement with the schools;
8. Non-discriminatory school policies (Lachat, 1999, p. 9 -
While these opportunity-to-learn standards sound promising,
their existence in theory is not tantamount to practice (McKeon,
1994). Compared to other industrialized countries, the United
States has proven woefully inadequate in providing the funding
necessary to equalize the educational experience for all children
(Slavin, 1998). If a reform movement is to prove successful then
political, economic, and community leaders will have to assume
responsibility for the progress of this nation's future (Lachat,
1999; Slavin, 1998; Stevens, 1996).
Diversity, Teachers, Students, and the Standards
Adopting the standards-based model is not a panacea by itself
to address the issues of diversity for educators and students.
Educators should continue to engage in the pedagogical dialogue
necessary to move beyond the rhetoric of high expectations
for all toward creating environments conducive to that mission.
A correlation does seem to exist between the aims of multicultural
education advocates (Banks, 1994; Haberman, 1991; Sleeter & Grant,
1990) and the descriptors outlined by Lachat (1999) for students
in standards-based learning. These descriptors hope to help students
1. Develop reasoning and problem-solving skills through real-world
2. Play an active role in constructing their own understanding
3. Explore issues and concepts in depth over time;
4. Take increased responsibility for their learning;
5. Use a wide range of resources including manipulatives and
6. Participate in collaborative learning activities;
7. Demonstrate their understanding and skills (Lachat, p.13).
Given the realities of our developing population, and the increasing
inclusion of the student, especially disadvantaged, minority
and/or limited English proficiency students, in the learning
process, educators should examine their own perceptions, practices,
and policies as they seek to develop their roles in standards-based
instruction. As such, they should:
1. Organize learning around what students need to know and be
able to do;
2. Enrich their teaching by cultivating students' higher order
3. Guide student inquiry by posing real-life tasks that require
reasoning and problem-solving;
4. Emphasize holistic concepts rather than fragmented units
5. Provide a variety of opportunities for students to explore
and confront concepts and situations over time;
6. Use multiple sources of information rather than a single
7. Work in interdisciplinary teams;
8. Use multiple forms of assessment to gather concrete evidence
of student proficiencies (Lachat, 1999, p.13).
Including students as instruments in their own learning and
the learning of others requires teachers to discover and utilize
the wealth of cultural tools available to them (Delpit, 1995).
Understanding and acknowledging the impact cultural diversity
has on the educational process can assist educators and school
communities in the development of environments equipped to meet
high standards for all students (Ladson-Billings, 1994; Pang,
1994).The essential factor in creating these environments involves
the support teachers require. Current research around implementation
of standards indicates the need for considerable time and staff
development for teachers whose classrooms are culturally diverse
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