TO: Dr. Mitra
FROM: Kristine Ona
DATE: 28 February 2016
SUBJECT: Part II: Standards Testing and Accountability
The growing belief that federal aid failed to raise the academic achievement of educationally
disadvantaged children grew began in the 1980s onward. Later, the belief took hold of the
idea that federally funded poverty-oriented education was not sufficiently raising the acade-
mic achievement of disadvantaged children. This belief came from conservatives who disap-
proved of the idea that national assistance was needed to improve public schools along with
liberals who believed major changes in federal aid were needed which led to changes in ac-
countability and the movement to raise academic standards. Over all, the belief that federal
aid was ineffective resulted in more criticism that our public schools were failing. In Part II,
Jennings explains the dissatisfaction of public schools and federal aid resulted in test-driven
reform measuring student achievement, accountability, and its level of effectiveness.
Standards, Testing, and Accountability Under Four Presidents
The movement for standards, tests, and accountability reform involved four presidents.
Each president made a contribution to the federal education structure of Title I and layered
new sets of requirements such as testing and accountability. The need for reform came from
the idea that schools are doing a poor job and that federal aid is ineffective.
George H.W. Bush challenged the concept of local control over curriculum. He rejected
Regan’s laissez-faire attitude toward federal involvement in the schools and opened the door
to a discussion of whether the content taught in local schools should be affected by the na-
tional government. These discussions eventually led to talks of improving all schools from the
federal level by raising the academic achievement of all American students. This was a revo-
lutionary concept because the public education system in America was dominated by local
school boards for the first two centuries. A symbolic collaboration of work between Democrats
and Republicans occurred at a summer educational summit called the National Governors As-
sociation in the summer of 1989. The collaboration was extraordinary because both parties
agreed that a larger federal role was needed to assist states in implementing effective educa-
Bill Clinton shifted the responsibility for developing standards and tests to states instead
of the federal government. In an attempt to adopt academic standards, he created Goals
2000 which authorized later amendments to ESEA requiring states to implement systems of
standards and tests in order to remain eligible for Title I assistance. One key concept that
sparked debate and was later vetoed from Goals 2000 was “opportunity to learn” or OTL. This
would have mandated that schools needed access to well-trained teachers and high quality
resources associated with good education. Though it was politically necessary, killing OTL was
considered to be a fatal error because it left pressure on schools and teachers to raise test
scores without any guidance or resources needed to meet federal standards. As a result, the
absence of OTL placed greater pressure on schools and teachers to raise test scores without
the necessary resources and training to successfully carry out Goals 2000.
George W. Bush’s built on Clinton’s success to support the national legislation to expand
standards and testing. This surprised congressional Republicans who tried to defund and re-
peal Clinton’s laws. His advocacy for federal involvement in education was mostly politically
motivated. He knew that if Republicans wanted to gain votes, they needed to make education
their issue again. Bush was also familiar with the standards and testing format since Texas was
adapted to the system since the 1980s. As a result of politics and familiarity, he proposed the
No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) which was signed into law in 2002. The boldness of NCLB ex-
ceeded Clinton’s 1994 laws in forcefulness and scale—so much so that this legislation made a
mark on American education, prolonging the use of standards, testing, and accountability in
schools even today. NCLB was more powerful than Clinton’s legislation because of its precise
process in measuring proficiency goals, timelines, and penalties. However, it was proven to be
loose on content since they gave states control on setting their standards of proficiency and
to determine their year-by-year schedules for students to reach the level of proficiency. NCLB
expanded federal policy to focus on raising academic achievement of all public school stu-
dents more so than helping particular students who needed extra services.
President Obama’s Race to the Top (RTTT) program aimed to amend NCLB’s shortcomings.
The program received about $5 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
(ARRA) to help states systemically improve their schools. Every state applied for RTTT in
hopes of obtaining federal funding during the economic recession of 2007-2009. However, in
order to improve their chances of getting the grant, states must use accountability measures
in teacher evaluations and remove state-legislated caps on the number of charter schools that
could exist in a state. Two years into Obama’s presidency, he lost control of the House of Rep-
resentatives to the Republicans. Senate Republicans did not want to give Obama any legisla-
tive victories making it hard for his administration to reauthorize NCLB. As a result, there was
no congressional agreement on NCLB. This led the Obama administration to give away waivers
to most states of provision of the law meaning that the law is gradually being changed with-
out the public knowledge of what the amendments would bring congressionally.
Has the Standards, Testing, and Accountability Movement Been Effective?
There is no conclusive evidence that suggests that NCLB has resulted in a broad increase
in academic achievement among American school children. Research and evaluations con-
ducted by the Center on Education Policy (CEP), the policy of standards, testing, and ac-
countability generated a combination of general improvements and drawbacks into education.
Since Bush signed NCLB in January 2002, the CEP has monitored the effects of the law through
surveys and case studies of states and school districts. An annual report entitled From the
Capital to the Classroom, examined educational practices that resulted from NCLB and it
sought to answer whether an increase in student achievement had been accomplished.
The most positive accomplishments of NCLB has been the undivided attention to student
performance. Students who were frequently overlooked because they were more difficult to
teach had now gained more attention. It focused on students who were often disregarded be-
cause they were more difficult to teach since schools would usually mask low achieving stu-
dents by the overall achievement trends of the entire student body. With NCLB, disappointing
results for a particular group of students would become obvious. As a result, the school was
responsible for each group of students and districts would be accountable for the schools. In
addition, the law placed more emphasis on accountability for all major groups of children
such as African American and Latino students as well as those with disabilities.
On the other hand, one of the faults of NCLB was that it placed too much emphasis on
state accountability tests. Student achievement is not always fairly or fully measured by
standardized tests. In addition, many schools, especially those with concentrations of children
from low-income families spent more time on reading and math—subjects that were not often
tested. State test results also showed some narrowing of achievement gaps between different
groups of students, but it occurred unevenly across states, grades, and subjects.
NCLB has not proved to be the solution to improve or reform student achievement such as Ti-
tle I. The following are recommendations for enhancing some of NCLB’s faults:
1. Appropriately measure student progress. NCLB placed great emphasis on the accountabil-
ity system. Part of the system was to ensure that every student was proficient in reading and
math. According to this system, a large number of schools missed the mark. By 2010—2011,
half of the public schools were considered as “needing improvement” because they had fallen
short of their state’s yearly targets. There is a lack of congruence between state tests and
2. Pay more attention to student learning needs rather than the achievement gap. State-
determined targets to measure adequate yearly progress has resulted in the neglect of stu-
dent’s learning needs. For example, all students were expected to meet proficiency stan-
dards in English even if English was their second language. Often times, schools had to pull an
“educationally disadvantaged” student out of the regular classroom for specialized instruc-
tion. This ultimately changed instructional practice.
3. Create clearer curricular guidelines and content to accurately measure student
achievement nationally. Under NCLB, each state established its own academic standards for
the content students should learn and they created their own definition of proficient perfor-
mance on tests. This made it impossible to compare states tests scores.