Sunday, January 31, 2010

No 'Standard' Definition of "Standards"?

There is no ‘standard’ definition of “standards”. How ironic is that? In fact, according to, there are 22 definitions of what ‘standard’ means ranging from “a grade of beef immediately below good” to “ a long candlestick used in church” to “a flag indicating the presence of a sovereign or public official” to “a distinct petal on certain flowers that is longer than the rest”. Imagine how confused or frustrated a person would be if one goes into a store to buy a spiritual candle and ends up with beef. Now, I’m being a bit silly here, because most logical people would assume that it means one of the top definitions listed, being either “something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison” or “a rule or principle that is used as a basis for judgment”. However, I can forever hear my mother’s voice in the back of my mind saying “to assume something makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’”. The simple fact is that when it comes to school standards and expectations of what our student should know and be able to do upon graduation, we can’t assume that they’ve learned what we well-intentioned teachers have set out to teach them. We have to be able to assess, and evaluate, fairly and comprehensively whether or not they have the skills, ability and know-how to be successful in the 21st century. To do that effectively we need national, provincial or district wide standards that outline the skills, resources, tools and support that students, teachers and administration need to effectively integrate technology into the curriculum, as well as measurable performance indicators for all stakeholders.

Many school districts across Canada now expect that technology and information literacy will be included in all aspects of curricula and it is often included as part of the learning outcomes. However, there are very few explicit instructions in terms of instructional time or assessment for them in most school districts in Canada. It is being assumed that they are ‘embedded’ as part of existing practice, when that is not necessarily the case. “This type of assumption is akin to one in which classroom teachers and school administrators assume that we are preparing students to be successful in a 21st century world because we are already living in it" (Zmuda & Harada, 2008, p. 84). There has been more of a focus on purchasing equipment and knowing how to use the new technology than on the integration of those technologies in classroom instruction for differentiated learning. As a colleague of mine reflected this week, “students need librarians who are information specialists to support them as they become self directed learners”(MacIsaac, 2010). I found this to be another poignant reminder that it's not enough to simply keep buying new resources and technology, but taking the time to train teachers and librarians on the best ways to integrate and use them to their fullest potential.

The second assumption that I want to refute loudly is that: standards = standardized testing. Standards and standardized tests simply ARE not and I sincerely hope (here in Canada) they DO not become synonymous. I truly believe that standards can be extremely positive because without a "clarity of focus, school leaders will continue to lament the lack of collaboration among staff, the minimal effectiveness of staff-development resources, and the impotency of school improvement efforts" (Zmuda & Harada, 2008 p. 4). However, "while there has been a significant push in the past decade toward a guaranteed and viable curriculum that is standards-based and measured by performance tasks, many students still experience coverage-driven, time-compressed units measured by short answer, multiple choice, and recall-based prompts that are taught via lectures and disconnected activities. Students deserve learning experiences that are rigorous and relevant" (Zmuda & Harada, 2008, p. 4).

What we need to provide for our students today, are authentic inquiry based tasks that are meaningful and relevant to real-life situations. The technology and Web 2.0 tools that we introduce and use with our students should develop the skills that all students should have to be successful in the 21st century. According to the American Association of School Librarians (AASL, 2007) all students should be able to:
1. Inquire, think critically and gain knowledge
2. Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge and create new knowledge
3. Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of society
4. Pursue personal growth

“School libraries are essential to the development of [these] learning skills” and it’s important that every school can provide equitable physical and intellectual access to the resources and tools required for learning (AASL, 2007). Until our administrators, governments and communities recognize the important role of technology and expertise that teacher-librarians offer, and invest in technology and programs that will improve teaching and learning opportunities with technology, it is unlikely that students will be given the best possible chances to learn the skills that are so essential for being successful in the 21st century. It is one thing to invest in the necessary equipment and quite another to learn how to use them to their full potential.

How will this impact my teaching in the library? I will be using the book Achieving Information Literacy: Standards for School Library Programs in Canada, along with the ISTE’s National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) and the AASL’s Standards for the 21st Century Learner to guide my use of technology. I will also be revising our library handbook’s scope and sequence for all grades to incorporate the technology skills that are outlined in our province’s curriculum guidelines for each subject and strive to create meaningful inquiry projects that utilize a variety of Web 2.0 tools to enhance their learning experiences.


American Association of School Librarians. (2007). Standards for the 21st Century Learner. Retrieved from:

Asselin, Marlene. Branch, Jennifer. Oberg, Dianne. (2003) Achieving Information Literacy: Standards for School Library Programs in Canada. The Canadian School Library Association and the Association for Teacher-Librarianship in Canada. Ottawa.

MacIsaac, Dawn. (January 25, 2010). Information Tech for Learning: Standards Discussion Question Two [Msg 2]. Message Posted to:

Zmuda, A., & Harada, V. H. (2008). Librarians as learning specialists: Meeting the learning imperative for the 21st century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Image credits
Beef Image. Retrieved from:

Standardized test results cartoon. Retrieved from:


Mark said...

I appreciate your strong "nay" to linking these standards to standardized testing as we know it. The standards outlined do not lend themselves at all to how we test students today. Wouldn't it be something if the passionate implementation of these standards actually helped totally redefine educational evaluation practices?
Another question for can these standards be implemented by individual librarians even if the division they work in hasn't adopted them?

Joanne de Groot said...

Thanks, Jackie. Like Mark said above, I think it is crucial to remember that standards and standardized testing are two different (and completely separate) things. Thanks for that reminder. I also agree that it is critical for teachers and teacher-librarians to have the standards to guide practice, particularly as it relates to technology/information literacy but equally critical is that teachers and tls receive training and continual support in integrating technology effectively into their practices.