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


  • Stephen J. Farenga Queens College, City University of New York
  • Daniel Ness Dowling College
  • Richard D. Sawyer Washington State University, Vancouver


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


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.

Author Biographies

Stephen J. Farenga, Queens College, City University of New York

Professor and Director of Science Education Program, Department of Secondary Education and Youth Services

Daniel Ness, Dowling College

Professor, Department of Human Development and Learning

Richard D. Sawyer, Washington State University, Vancouver

Associate Professor, Department of Teaching and Learning