Standards, Assessments, and Accountability

The assessment of students in the United States dates from at least the mid-nineteenth century, when the New York State Board of Regents began to administer annual "Regents tests." More than 100 years later, the modern emphasis on accountability and standards began to take hold nationwide. Among the key developments:

  • In 1969, the National Assessment of Educational Progress was created.
  • Testing for basic skills competency began in the 1970s.
  • In 1983, a panel of experts—brought together by Secretary of Education Terrel Bell under President Ronald Reagan—issued A Nation at Risk, which recommended standardized testing across the nation and provided a justification for revised priorities in federal education funding.
  • Business leaders, complaining about the lack of properly educated employees, pushed for improved student achievement.
  • Many states enacted legislation that established standards for basic skills levels.
  • In 1988, Congress created the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) to develop standards of assessment.
  • In 1989, President George H. W. Bush convened a National Summit on Education. The following year, the nation's governors adopted National Education Goals.
  • In 1991, President Bush's America 2000 initiative called for the creation of New American Schools. He also asked the states to set educational goals, called for voluntary national standards, and promoted "school choice" as an option.
  • In 1994, the Clinton administration passed the Goals 2000 Act and Improving America's Schools Act, embodying most of the principles called for in America 2000.
  • In mandating their own standards, both New York and Massachusetts required passage of statewide tests as a prerequisite for graduation. By 2002, nearly all of the states had created standards.
  • In 2002, for the first time, the No Child Left Behind Act required states to meet high academic standards.

School reform issues continue to center around issues of accountability (including charter schools), corporate management of public schools, low-performing schools, and vouchers. Quite naturally, high academic standards and student measurement dominate much of the discussion.

Selected bibliography of published materials