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Ed Testing History

Page history last edited by jec491@mail.harvard.edu 14 years, 6 months ago

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History: A Timeline of National Testing Reform



Although the history of national involvement in education shows overlapping trends and themes, it may be helpful to frame it in three basic reform movements. First, the initial foray into federal education policy came through reforms concerned with equality of access from the 1950s to the 1970s. Then, the 1980s and 1990s can mainly be viewed as an era of standards-based reform. Since 2000, reform efforts have been focused on accountability, from accountability for schools as a whole in No Child Left Behind to accountability of individual students in many state testing regimes to accountability for teachers to provide student progress as rewarded by the upcoming Race to the Top.



Federal Forays into Education: Equality-based Reforms


From Brown vs. Board through the 1970s, the Federal Government’s involvement in education spending and policy was generally limited to providing increased equality of access to education for students. The NDEA was the first indication of federal education spending, though minimal in this case, being linked to national security concerns.




• The Supreme Court famously rules in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that the states’ “separate but equal” education it upheld for black students in Plessy v. Ferguson was unconstitutional. This ruling changed the face of American education forever, and marked the grand involvement of the federal government in the traditionally state-run area of education.




• The National Defense Education Act is passed. Fueled by Sputnik-induced paranoia, the NDEA provided increased federal funding for science, math and foreign language education, but was offered without consequences and was short-lived.




•President Lyndon B. Johnson passes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Seen as part of the war on poverty and an effort to equalize the education opportunities available to American students, the Title 1 of the ESEA offered federal funds to each state to be used to educate underprivileged students. Funds were calculated on a formula that multiplied the number of students in the state living below a certain income threshold by a percentage of state per-pupil spending, guaranteeing wide support since funds reached over ninety percent of districts in the country. Funding was tied to students and not schools.


1960s and 1970s:


•Civil Rights litigation in the Supreme Court continues to move force the states to move away from desegregation in a meaningful way. Landmark cases include:

            • 1968: Green v County School Board of New Kent County, which finds plans providing school choice to students under the letter of the law but not practically allowing for desegregation                          to occur are unconstitutional, and demanding affirmative action.

            • 1969: Alexander v Holmes County Board of Education, which forced states to act at once to desegregate schools and not use delay tactics as a means of keeping schools segregated.

            • 1971: Swann v Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, which held that busing was an appropriate remedy for desegregating schools.



Coalition Calls to Action: Standards-based Reforms


Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, a national movement of standards-based reform, along with the assessment projects necessary to measure those standards, was building steam. The focus moves away from equality of access to education and toward improving the quality of education.



A Nation at Risk is published by Reagan’s Secretary of Education Terrell Bell. It famously presents the dire situation of America’s low-quality primary and secondary education in the face of a global economic climate.


Al Shanker, president of the National Teachers Union, calls for a reform of the quality of American education and stands for many of the same ideals as A Nation at Risk.


President Reagan gives little response to the seminal report, failing to move in legislation toward improving standards for American education.




A Nation Prepared, the 1986 Carnegie Report, is published. It calls for teacher standards nationwide and, importantly, ties those standards to student performance at the school level as a means toward equal and quality education. (View Abstract).



•President George H.W. Bush gathers a governors’ education summit to set ambitious national performance goals for schools. At the forefront of the summit is Arkansas governor Bill Clinton.



•The Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce pushes for standards-based high school certificates indicating that students have me the high national standards that will prepare them to thrive and compete in the global economy.



•President George H.W. Bush introduces “America 2000” legislation, a “long-term national strategy” that includes national testing (not mandatory) and comes out of the governors’ summit. The link between testing and high national standards causes the bill not to pass.



The New Standards Project is launched. It is an ambitious coalition of states and districts working to gather data and create assessments that will guide meaningful instruction. The New Standards Project attempts to accept the mantra that “what is tested is what is taught” and use test better test creation to guide better instruction.



• President Clinton passes the Goals 2000 legislation that President Bush was unable to pass. It is overambitious and under-structured to accomplish huge change (including competency testing in three grades and making America first in the world in mathematics), but does articulate goals of standards-based reform and performance assessments, and does provide more federal funding for education. (View Summary).


• ESEA is reauthorized under President Clinton as the Improving America’s Schools Act (IASA). (View summary.) The focus is on higher standards and the law includes an increased strive toward accountability for meeting the standards that have grown out of recent reforms. We see an emphasis on continuous improvement each year, as well as a link between the provision of Title I funds by the federal government and the requirement that states administer standards-based performance assessments to students receiving funding throughout their educations. States set their own improvement standards. The timeline for compliance is lengthy.


National Demand for Accountability: Test-based Reforms


The movement for standards-based reforms continues, and continues to be more heavily informed and measured by performance standards. Increasing emphasis is placed on accountability from states, students, and teachers as performance assessments are increasingly seen as the road to improving education on all fronts. We begin to see a shift back to equity-driven reforms, except now they are explained by a “quality for all” style of rhetoric and enforcement.



• The Democratic Leadership Council’s Progressive Policy Institute releases a white paper arguing “that achieving educational equity meant equalizing not the dollars spent on education but its quality, as measured by the results students achieved,” and that the federal government “should play the role of investor and catalyst... using tough national standards and testing to enforce results.”[1] (1999 Congressional Testimony by paper author Andrew Rotherham available here.)



• President George W. Bush takes office and sends his education policy to Congress just days later. The general goal of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), his reincarnation of the ESEA, is to tie federal funds to accountability measures in order to drive all schools and students each year toward meeting or exceeding a “proficient” standard. Although many ideas of yearly progress and standards for every student are not new to education legislation at this point, Bush considers accountability as the center of his plan, which is a change.


•NLCB is politically difficult to oppose, and is passed quickly with vast bipartisan support. The bill is sent to Congress in a general form with the House left to iron out the details of how accountability will be defined and measured. As such, the result is both ambitious and yet leaves room for state interpretation and application.


View President Bush speaking about NCLB in 2008:


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View President Obama speaking about NCLB in 2008:

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• The Obama administration introduces Race to the Top, a $5B supplemental education program that is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan introduces Race to the Top by saying, "The next generation of assessments will provide information that helps accelerate student learning and improve teachers' practice." The fund is competitive, and rewards models for collecting student data from assessments and using it to improve the quality of classroom teachers. In order to compete, states must remove caps on charter schools. Funding is reserved for four areas of reform: assessments that help prepare students for careers and college, measures for improving the quality of teachers in the classroom, systems for collecting data and using it to inform practices, and focus on low-performing schools. Thus, the focus has moved from not only improvement by assessments to improvement of assessments.



INTERVIEWS: In our "Files", please see two interviews on educational testing. One with Professor Dan Koretz of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and one with Danny Allen, former head of the English department at an urban Massachusetts high school and a 35-year veteran teacher.



[1] Andrew Rudalevige, “No Child Left Behind: Forging a Congressional Compromise,” in

Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West, eds., No Child Left Behind? The Politics and

Practice of School Accountability (Brookings Institution Press, 2003)

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