Language Education Policy Studies
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Standardization as Policy 

Most State guides propose content standards, performance standards and performance guidelines as the major goals of language teaching.  The purpose of a standard-based articulation of curricula is in the continuation of early taxonomies that tried to increase consistency across curricula through well-specified performances.  Currently higher-level thinking processes are emphasized yet in a way that can be submitted to regular evaluations.  The idea is that if the frequency and length of instruction matching clear performance guidelines are neatly articulated, then the student will progress the same way towards the same goals (Sandrock, 2002). So far so good, if policy makers believe that development is broadly similar for every child, which has been a heavily debated aspect of developmental theory (Kanjirathinkal, 1990).  Then comes the issue of evaluating the results of instruction.


Districts make evaluations a top priority and it becomes one of their major political stakes. Notwithstanding most knowledgeable educators are aware that these evaluations have not much scientific value and even have a stench of political scam (Sacks, 2000).  School tests are flawed with numerous systematic biases, are often gender-, race-, and language-prejudiced, tend to favor low taxonomic achievement level, do not represent authentic learning nor life-long learning, and are basically propelled by economic interests rather than being a real advantage and support to anyone in the field of education but the creators of tests.  Just to the contrary, school tests induce changes in teaching towards non-meaningful instruction, and they take valuable time out of learning because they are so much time consuming. Osborn (2006, p.1) summarized the situation as follows:


“A number of language educators are growing increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo of our profession. The thrust of the ‘standards movement’ does not resonate with them as advancing the cause of language education. Instead, it feels as though language curricula are being ‘sterilized’ and packaged in a way that eliminates much of the creativity and passion that led many of us into this field in the first place.”


Increasing summative, formal assessment is often at the cost of acquisition. Setting up standards with key attention to their assessment may just be counterproductive. Authentic learning cannot be submitted to standardized assessment, and higher-level learning is most difficult to evaluate.  All in all, standardized summative evaluations make everyone unhappy: the students, the parents, the teachers, the principals, the districts, the counties and the States. One major role of assessment may be to maintain multi-million-dollars testing corporations that might otherwise go bankrupt (Saltman, 2000). Should teacher educators tell about the dark side of evaluation when it becomes a weapon of mass deception? In contrast, empowerment evaluation is dialogical.




  • Kanjirathinkal, M. (1990). A Sociological Critique of Theories of Cognitive Development: The Limitations of Piaget and Kohlberg. Lewiston, NY: Mellen.
  • Osborn, T. A.  (2006). Teaching world languages for social justice. A sourcebook of principles and practices. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Sacks, P. (2000). Standardized minds. The high price of America’s testing culture and what we can do to change it. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.
  • Saltman, K. J. (2000). Collateral damage: Corporatizing public schools – A threat to Democracy. Oxford, UK: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Sandrock (2002), Planning curriculum for learning world languages. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.


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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Tochon, F. V. (2013). Standards as Policy. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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