Quick Guide to Testing in K-12 Education

Educational assessments have been around since the foundation of our educational system. As our K-12 educational policies have evolved over the years, assessments have taken a more prominent role in improving student achievement.

During the early part of the 20th century, educational assessment was an informational tool for teachers to evaluate or document academic readiness. There were no state or federal mandates requiring districts to report student achievement scores, nationally or locally.  Towards the late 1970s, the public began to question this practice.

Many were concerned how American schools were not preparing students for the workplace or a post secondary track. Parents and policymakers were dismayed with the growing achievement gaps between different student populations and lack of accountability from school districts. The public demanded action.

Business-like Model to Reform Education

As the 1980s approach, policy makers embarked on overhauling our nation’s public schools. During this time, policymakers supported a “business-like” model for reforming education. They believed that our educational system needed a way to quantify student learning. By enumerating the learning process,  school districts would be able to evaluate and determine the caliber of their instructional program.

Federal educational agencies took these recommendations and developed educational standards (outcomes statements of what schools should be teaching per grade) and outlined procedures how to use test data to assess these standards. These recommendations were presented to all educational departments across the United States. Despite policymakers’ best efforts, states still did not implement these suggested reform policies.

Picking and Choosing Reform Efforts

It was apparent that school districts were picking and choosing the type of reforms they wanted to implement. Some states did not have the capacity or the incentive to move towards a “business-like” model to improve their instructional program. Policymakers were not happy with this approach to their educational reform policies. After two decades, they sought  to design an “uncompromising policy” to reform American schools. And finally in 2002, they got it with No Child Left behind Act.

Output Learning Enacted

The NCLB Act, signed into law by President Bush on Jan. 8, 2002, gave policy makers the leverage they needed to reform education and to implement a uniform accountability system. NCLB required states to test students in the core academic areas (reading, mathematics, science and social studies).  The test results would be used to measure students’ academic proficiency and assess a school district performance.

Outputs, pupil learning, would become the point by which students, teachers, schools, districts, and states would be judged (Girod, G.R., & Girod, M., n.d.).

This law motivated schools to adopt assessment systems to capture testing data and to establish a systematic approach to learning (i.e., a business -like model). Assessments are now driving how states, schools, and teachers educate students. Test data provides schools with the information they need to improve student learning and enhances its ability to become quality learning organizations.


Chapter 4: Standards-based Schools (Girod, G.R., & Girod, M., n.d). Available at:  http://www.wou.edu/~girodm/100/brief_history_of_standards.pdf

Published by TeacherConvoy

TeacherConvoy provides K-12 learning and development solutions for educational professionals ongoing training needs.

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