sions as critical aspects of high-quality standards, but there is no widely shared conception of quality or of the essential components of standards-based reform.
The current system is characterized by dramatic variation. There is significant variability among states in the nature of their content standards, what is covered, and the performance levels they set. It is not entirely clear what effects this variation has, although some view the variation itself as a major impediment to equity. Moreover, there may be as much variation in the ways different districts in a state implement standards (perhaps even among classrooms in a school) as there is among states.
It is also not clear whether common standards for states would reduce this variability. The variation in proficiency standards highlights the limitations of a model that focuses on achievement to a particular defined level. Many argue that a growth model (an assessment system that focuses on measuring students’ academic growth over time) may be a more useful approach than a model that provides snapshots of the percentages of students who have reached a particular level.
The variability in the implementation of standards-based reforms among states may reflect the lack of consensus about what good standards look like. Some noted, for example, that there is no obvious relationship between the coverage of content and performance on common measures, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Others viewed the variation as a critical obstacle to the equality of opportunity that is a key goal of standards-based reform efforts. In some ways, assessments and proficiency scores have come to stand in for academic content standards, but few see this as a positive development. Many people believe that test-based accountability has made the goal of proficiency dwarf far more important education goals. Poor student outcomes should raise questions about the adequacy of curriculum, instruction, classroom materials, the structure of the school day and year, leadership, and other factors in education. Thus, for example, the goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 may be far less useful than establishing firm standards for states related to students’ opportunity to learn.
The current system of standards is not working as it was intended to. The theory of standards-based reform was that if standards, assessments, and accountability systems were in place, everything else that needed to happen would follow. It seems clear now that this formulation was incomplete—that it omitted two critical factors. First, it did not directly address teaching itself and the mechanisms through which teachers would adapt their instruction. Second, it did not address the need for political will to address the disparities in the educational opportunities offered to students in different settings by making the needed broader changes. Comments demonstrated widespread agreement that the lack of will to