The term “gold standard” seems to be used a lot lately in the Stamford Public Schools. To clarify and elaborate on this term, it is helpful to look at its educational history, design, and application when focusing on SPS curriculum, assessment, and leadership. Is the “gold standard” really being applied in all areas?
“Gold Standard” was first used in education when the 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was enacted at the federal level. With the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk, policymakers and state/national leaders believed the education field needed to move towards interventions and practices that were demonstrated in effective, rigorous studies, not just teacher knowledge and skill levels—or using vogue materials like whole language and new math curriculums (1980s & 1990s).
Since randomized control trials (RCTs) are the only designs that provide “strong evidence” of intervention effectiveness, they are often dubbed the “gold standard” in education, medicine, welfare and employment research. Randomized control trials consist of selecting, at random, enough people from a population of interest and assigning them to receive a particular treatment. Another random group, of the same size from the same population, is not given treatment. After the treatment is administered, both groups are then compared. Hopefully, great results are scaled up to create similar programs (treatments) in education.
Diagnostics, tests and benchmarks may also be used to create levels of evidence. Well-designed, true experiments are even given higher precedence in the awarding of federal research grants. It’s interesting that most grants used throughout public education today are federally funded.
So what is the “gold standard” for curriculum, assessment and leadership accountability in the SPS? New curriculums should help all students acquire key knowledge, understanding, and success skills. Assessments should help determine strengths and allow students to move forward using merit as well as hard work. Most important, healthy systemic leadership should build in support structures so all students can succeed in the classroom, school culture, bus rides, and extracurricular activities. Home support systems and student self-confidence are also key indicators for success.
It is the hope that all students will have the opportunity to experience the gold standard in the SPS. Unfortunately, there are issues that continue to raise questions:
In closing, taxpayers need to ask if the SPS gold standard is really being applied to all curriculums, assessments, and leadership areas. Most important, is the gold standard being applied by the Stamford Board of Education in measuring overall learning and success of the SPS? Lip service is not enough. Following the gold standard is about the future of Stamford—we are a city that works, not fails!
Dr. Hamman currently serves as Policy Chair for the Stamford Board of Education. Her comments are her own and do not represent the official views of the Board of Education or its committees.