A standards-based educational model took hold in the United States during the Reagan era following the 1983 release of A Nation at Risk. This started wide-ranging reforms to ensure that all students were prepared for college and the modern workplace. To this end, a standards-based curriculum was enacted with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1994 and reinforced in 2001 with No Child Left Behind’s use of standardized test-based accountability. Since 2010, many states have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that detail what K–12 students should know in language arts and mathematics by the end of each grade, and all 50 states have standards of some sort for learning that are assessed by a state standardized test. Policy makers acknowledge these standards as the central framework that guides state education policy (Darling-Hammond & Wentworth, 2010).
Standardized testing has become a common practice in education and is used to hold schools accountable for teaching students the state-defined content standards. Typically, standardized tests are administered annually or at key transitional grade levels depending on the state and subject area. The benefit of standardized testing as opposed to other types of data collection is just that – it is standard across all students tested. A standardized test therefore allows for comparison that would not otherwise be possible.
State standardized tests are aligned with the state-defined content standards, therefore, educators can use these tests to get a clear picture of what students know and where instruction should be focused. In addition to state standardized tests, there are national and international standardized tests used to measure and compare student performance. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest nationally representative assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas while PISA is the largest international standardized assessment. Both of these assessments are used by the national and international communities to track the progress of students and therefore the overall health and effectiveness of the nation’s education system. Best practices from high-performing nations can be used and implemented globally.
Standardized assessments are closely followed by educators, legislators, parents, along with state and federal accountability staff, as a measure of overall campus and district health. Classroom educators use state test results to drive instruction at the standards level. When aggregated at the campus, district, and state levels, the assessment results measure absolute student performance, achievement gaps, and track improvements over time, which tie to both state and federal funding and accountability requirements.
The following metrics are documented in this section: