standards. California, which initiated its standards approach during the 1980s, was an early adopter, for example, whereas North Dakota adopted standards in response to federal requirements in 1994. The 21 interview subjects included officials or education aides from governors’ offices, members of state boards of education, state legislators, and state education agency officials.
Massell began with a brief overview of the evolution of standards-based reforms in the states. She highlighted the current, unprecedented degree of public engagement in the specifics of implementing standards-based systems, particularly attention on the curriculum and instruction that make them concrete. She described standards-based reform as having had the effect of “opening Pandora’s box,” because it resulted in a new transparency with regard to curriculum and instruction. Massell was borrowing a phrase from a 1950s report that described districts as reluctant to allow the public to involve itself with potentially divisive questions about what and how children should be taught.
Although the minimum competency movement of the 1970s—as well as lawsuits in a number of states intended to force states to equalize school funding—increased focus on schools’ accountability to states with regard to what students actually learn, the achievement bar was set relatively low, Massell explained. The standards-based reform movement that developed in response to A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) expanded the role of standards, emphasizing rigorous requirements for high school graduation. As national organizations, such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), as well as individual states began to put forward more detailed statements of what students should be expected to know and be able to do, the concept of systemic reform, suggested by Smith and O’Day (1991), sharpened the focus on how standards might lead to the desired learning. The logic of systemic reform was that the primary elements of an educational system—such as curriculum, instruction, teacher preparation, professional development, and assessment—must all be aligned to carefully developed content and performance standards in order for those standards to affect teaching and learning. In this view, educators would still retain significant flexibility in meeting expectations but be held accountable for the results.
In 1994 the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act made standards-based reform the official national approach to public schooling by requiring states to set challenging standards aligned to assessments and accountability measures (Massell, 2008). The testing requirements imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 built on that commitment, requiring states to (1) publish challenging academic content standards in English/language arts and mathematics for