Avoiding Equivalence by Leveling: Challenging the Consensus-Driven Curriculum that Defines Students as “Average”

Stephen J. Farenga, Daniel Ness, Richard D. Sawyer


For both economic and political reasons, education policy makers and semi-regulatory organizations have initiated primarily two pseudo-events that they want the public to embrace as a means of perpetuating a consensus-driven curriculum: 1) social justice and equality is achieved by categorizing almost all students’ academic performance as “average”; and 2) high-stakes examinations and rubrics are valid substitutes for demonstrating equity and broad field knowledge.  We begin by identifying the problems with attempting to categorize attributes associated with being “average.”  This is explained by an educational strategy that we call “equivalence by leveling.”  We then examine rubrics and standardized testing and how these assessment protocols adversely affect “average” students.  In doing so, we investigate the groups that benefit from these policies, and how these groups cause collateral damage.  We close by offering suggestions toward a more dialectic framework that includes dissensus, conversation, and dialectic interaction as prerequisite criteria for curriculum development.


Education Policy; Curriculum; Rubrics; Educational Assessment; High-Stakes Testing; Bullying

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JCT: Journal of Curriculum Theorizing is an interdisciplinary journal of curriculum studies. It offers an academic forum for scholarly discussions of curriculum. Historically aligned with the "reconceptualist" movement in curriculum theorizing, and oriented toward informing and affecting classroom practice, JCT presents compelling pieces within forms that challenge disciplinary, genre, and textual boundaries.

The journal is published by the Foundation for Curriculum Theory and is associated with the Bergamo Conference on Curriculum Theory and Classroom Practice, held in the autumn of each year. JCT is indexed in The Education Index.

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