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ERIC Number: ED531138
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2009
Pages: 16
Abstractor: ERIC
Standards, Assessments, and Accountability. Education Policy White Paper
Shepard, Lorrie, Ed.; Hannaway, Jane, Ed.; Baker, Eva, Ed.
National Academy of Education (NJ1)
Standards-based education reform has a more than 20-year history. A standards-based vision was enacted in federal law under the Clinton administration with the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and carried forward under the Bush administration with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001. In a recent survey of policy makers, standards were acknowledged as the central framework guiding state education policy. Yet, despite this apparent unanimity about the intuitively appealing idea of standards, there is great confusion about its "operational" meaning: exactly what should the standards be, how should they be set and by whom, and how should they be applied to ensure rigorous and high-quality education for American students are the central questions that challenge policy makers and educators. For example, "content" standards (subject-matter descriptions of what students should know and be able to do) are often confused with "performance" standards (which are more like passing scores on a test), and very different theories of action are used to explain how standards-based reforms are expected to work. Ambitious rhetoric has called for systemic reform and profound changes in curriculum and assessments to enable higher levels of learning. In reality, however, implementation of standards has frequently resulted in a much more familiar policy of test-based accountability, whereby test items often become crude proxies for the standards. This disconnect between rhetoric and reality is one of the reasons for the failure of prior reforms. Standards-based education is still the core idea guiding education policy and education reform. But the foregoing issues need to be addressed if the promises of standards-based education are to be kept. As yet, neither state content standards nor state tests reflect the ambitions of standards-based reform rhetoric, and the link between high expectations for all students and capacity building has been almost forgotten. The intentions of standards-based education--to focus greater attention on student learning, to ensure the participation and success of all students, and to provide guidance for educational improvement--are in the best interest of the country. This paper offers the following recommendations: (1) The federal government should encourage the redesign and clear connection of content and performance standards--and the curricula, teacher training, and high-quality assessments to go with them--with the goal of developing clearly articulated statements of the expected progression of learning. Efforts to develop these components may involve partnerships among states, universities, groups of teachers, scholars, and the private sector; (2) The federal government should support research on accountability system indicators to reflect both the status and growth of students. Performance standards should set ambitious but realistic targets for teaching and learning, and they should communicate to the public, parents, educators, and students themselves what is to be learned. Assessment results should be reported in ways that recognize progress all along the achievement continuum; (3) The federal government should support the redesign and ongoing evaluation of accountability systems to ensure that they contribute to school improvement. Less than satisfactory school performance should trigger closer investigation of school operations before remedies or sanctions are applied, and stellar performances should also be verified. Different investigative approaches, including audit assessments, data-driven analyses, or expert constituted inspectorates, should be considered; and (4) The federal government should support an intensive program of research and development to create the next generation of performance assessments explicitly linked to well-designed content standards and curricula. (Contains 77 notes.)
National Academy of Education. 500 Fifth Street NW Suite 339, Washington, DC 20001. Tel: 202-334-2341; Fax: 202-334-2350; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: National Academy of Education
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: Elementary and Secondary Education Act; No Child Left Behind Act 2001
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A