Differentiation vs. Standardization – They go together!

Something has been bothering me for a while. I’ve seen it everywhere, from Facebook to blogs to Instagram. It’s this:


I see that, and I immediately get frustrated. I have some questions/concerns for the people posting this meme.

I’d like to ask these people – Is that meant to be a rhetorical question? I assume it is. I mean, if not – if it’s an actual, serious, “I’m confused about this” question – then I’m not sure the asker should be teaching. At least, to me, the real answer is very obvious and simple and kind of defines the entire purpose of our job.

So let’s assume people are posting it rhetorically because they’re frustrated with their job climate, or working conditions, or bureaucratic nonsense that they’re being forced to deal with on a daily basis. I get it. I know those things are frustrating. But I’m not sure that this meme is the right way to express those frustrations.

Because the fact is, the question being asked has a very simple answer. “Why are teachers told to differentiate their instruction but standardize their tests!?” (Note the combination exclamation mark/question mark, which I think gives the whole question a bit of Ygritte-flavored attitude. Right?)

The fact is (and I feel certain that we were all taught this in college) not all students come to us on the same level. Sure, our jobs would be a million times easier if every student knew exactly the same information and we could teach them all at the same pace, but we can’t. Therefore, we differentiate our instruction. Why do we have to standardize our tests? Because there has to be a common denominator somewhere! There has to be an ultimate goal. Sure, you can (and should!) set smaller goals for your students to work towards so that they can experience success. But ultimately, we have to know where all students are on the same playing field. Isn’t that where they’re going to be when they’re adults, applying for jobs?

I absolutely love this cartoon and although it effectively demonstrates lots of concepts, it applies perfectly here as well.


When you differentiate instruction (by providing more boxes, as in the picture on the right), students are able to overcome their weaknesses and reach the same heights as the other students. That fence is the standardized test that tells us that yes, our differentiation was effective. Now, the student who wasn’t previously tall enough to see over the fence (read: smart enough, intelligent enough, fluent enough in the English language) has enough support that he can do the same as the other students in the class. The standardized testing proves that.

I honestly think that this meme is simply a way for teachers to show their frustration. I hope that it is. This is, to me, such a simple question with such a simple answer. And I get the frustration, I truly do. As a matter of fact, every time I see this meme, I feel compelled to share one of my own (for those of you unfamiliar, this is the “Are you serious?” face:

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