knowledge of science and the scientific knowledge found in many sources; they apply science content to new questions; they engage in problem solving, planning, and group discussions; and they experience assessments that are consistent with an active approach to learning, (p. 20)
In these respects, the standards represent an important start toward incorporating findings from cognitive research about the nature of knowledge and expertise into curriculum and instruction. Standards vary widely, however, and some have fallen short of their intentions. For example, some state standards are too vague to be useful blueprints for instruction or assessment. Others call upon students to learn a broad range of content rather than focusing in depth on the most central concepts and methods of a particular discipline, and some standards are so detailed that the big ideas are lost or buried (American Federation of Teachers, 1999; Finn, Petrilli, and Vanourek, 1998).
State standards, whatever their quality, have significantly shaped classroom practices and exerted a major impact on assessment. Indeed, assessment is pivotal to standards-based reforms because it is the primary means of measuring progress toward attainment of the standards and of holding students, teachers, and administrators accountable for improvement over time. This accountability, in turn, is expected to create incentives for modifying and improving performance.
Without doubt, the standards movement has increased the amount of testing in K-12 schools and raised the consequences, expectations, and controversies attached to test results. To implement standards-based reforms, many states have put in place new tests in multiple curriculum areas and/or implemented tests at additional grade levels. Currently, 48 states have statewide testing programs, compared with 39 in 1996, and many school districts also have their own local testing programs (in addition to the range of classroom tests teachers regularly administer). As a result of this increased emphasis on assessment as an instrument of reform, the amount of spending on large-scale testing has doubled in the past 4 years, from $165 million in 1996 to $330 million in 2000 (Achieve, 2000).
Moreover, states and school districts have increasingly attached high stakes to test results. Scores on assessments are being used to make decisions about whether students advance to the next grade or graduate from high school, which students receive special services, how teachers and administrators are evaluated, how resources are allocated, and whether schools are eligible for various rewards or subject to sanctions or intervention by the district or state. These efforts have particular implications for equity if and when certain groups are disproportionately affected by the policies. As a result, the courts are paying greater attention to assessment results, and lawsuits are under way in several states that seek to use measures of educational quality to determine whether they are fulfilling their responsibility to provide all students with an adequate education (NRC, 1999c).