demic demands are compromised because the bulk of the class sees no need to accept them as reasonable and legitimate.
External assessment changes the incentives faced by school administrators. In the United States locally elected school boards and the administrators they hire make the thousands of decisions that determine academic expectations and program quality. When there is no external assessment of academic achievement, students and their parents benefit little from administrative decisions that opt for higher standards, more qualified teachers, or a heavier student workload. The immediate consequences of such decisions—higher taxes, more homework, having to repeat courses, lower grade point averages (GPAs), less time for fun courses, a greater risk of being denied a diploma—are all negative. When student learning is not assessed externally, the positive effects of choosing academic rigor are negligible and postponed. Since college admission decisions are based on rank in class, GPAs, and aptitude tests and not externally assessed achievement in high school courses, upgraded standards will not improve the college admissions prospects of a secondary school's graduates. Graduates will do better in difficult college courses and will be more likely to get a degree, but that benefit is uncertain and far in the future. Maybe over time the school's reputation and, with it, the admissions prospects of graduates will improve because the current graduates are more successful at local colleges. That, however, is an even more uncertain and delayed result.
Few American employers pay attention to a student's achievement in high school or the school's reputation when they make hiring selections (Bishop, 1993; Hollenbeck and Smith, 1984). Those who do pay attention to school achievement use such indicators of relative performance as GPA and class rank rather than results on an external exam as a hiring criterion. Consequently, higher standards do not benefit students as a group, so parents as a group have little incentive to lobby strongly for higher teacher salaries, higher standards, and higher school taxes. Employers who recruit from a local high school are often the only group with a real interest in general increases in achievement. Since, however, they pay a disproportionate share of school taxes, they tend to support only policy options that do not cost additional money.
By contrast, in many European countries the record of each school in the external examination—the number of students who pass or get high grades—is published in local and national newspapers. Recent reforms in England and Scotland, for example, have resulted in schools publishing annual reports that contain the grades received by last year's students in each subject tested. These reports are sent to parents of current and prospective students. The school league tables have important effects on school reputations. Administrators seeking to