The test-based accountability movement in education can be seen as part of a broader movement for government reform and accountability over the past few decades that has sought to measure and publicize government performance as a way to improve it. The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 is an example of the more general trend in the United States, and there are similar examples in many other countries.
While the broad objectives of these reforms to promote more “effective, efficient, and responsive government” are the same as those of reforms introduced more than a century ago, what is new are the increasing scope, sophistication, and external visibility of performance measurement activities, impelled by legislative requirements aimed at holding governments accountable for outcomes. (Heinrich, 2003, p. 25)
In education, accountability systems in the United States have attached ever-stronger incentives to tests over time. Tests for accountability purposes emerged under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 and the start of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). However, the original form of these national requirements for testing did not include explicit incentives linked to test results (Koretz and Hamilton, 2006; Shepard, 2008). In the 1970s, the minimum competency movement led to greater consequences being attached to the results of tests for students, with graduation and promotion decisions in some states being tied to test results. The 1988 reauthorization of ESEA required Title I schools with stagnant or declining test scores to file improvement plans with their districts.
The standards-based reform movement of the early 1990s led to the requirement in the 1994 ESEA reauthorization for states to create rigorous content and performance standards and report student test results in terms of the standards (National Research Council, 1997, p. 25). This was followed by the requirements of the 2001 reauthorization (NCLB) for schools and districts to show progress in the proportion of students reaching proficiency or to face the possibility of restructuring. The emergence of value-added modeling led to increasing interest in the use of test results for evaluating and rewarding individual teachers and principals (National Research Council and National Academy of Education, 2010).
This brief sketch of test-based accountability in education over a 50-year period condenses a complicated and fitful history into a few pivotal points. In some cases changes at the national level were preceded by changes in individual states, and over the decades there were periodic waves of concern about education that included the reaction to Sputnik in 1957, the publication of A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983), and responses to the U.S. position on the