chapter  1
The Conditions and Characteristics of Assessment and Accountability: The Case of Four States
Pages 41

Historically, the American educational system has tried to balance meritocracy and democracy. By pitting the “perfectibility of man” against equality of opportunity, assessment has been important in defining this balance (Hoff 1999). Today’s assessment-based reforms are hardly new, but the purpose of assessment has been “transformed” from traditional goals of measuring intelligence, tracking students, standardizing learning, and evaluating applicants into new forms of judging the quality and equality of schooling. Assessment has also been greatly intensified. The convergence of these two trends has led to more state testing and new types of assessment, such as high stakes tests for high school graduation, and the use of assessment in formal accountability systems. Between 1980 and 1998, the number of states that mandated student testing increased from twenty-nine to forty-eight (Office of Technology Assessment 1992; Hoff 1999). By 1998, thirty-nine states were administering some form of performancebased assessment; twenty-four states attached stakes to their tests in the form of student recognition, promotion, or graduation; and forty states used test scores for school accountability purposes (Bond et al. 1995, cited in Stecher and Barron 1999).