The term secondary school refers to the levels of schooling that follow elementary school and conclude with high school graduation. Typically, these include middle schools or junior high schools, the most common configuration of which is grades six through eight, and high schools, the most common configuration of which is grades nine through twelve. The 1983 release of the National Commission on Excellence in Education document A Nation at Risk focused national attention on the need for school reform. This reform movement took clearer shape in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the introduction, by the first Bush administration, of America 2000, a list of goals for U.S. education to be achieved by 2000. America 2000 was later refined and renamed Goals 2000 by the Clinton administration. So began the standards movement, which evolved throughout the 1990s and was ultimately codified by President George W. Bush and the 107th Congress in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. This act sharpened the teeth of the standards movement with accountability measures in the form of "high-stakes" standardized tests that all students must take at various points in their education. It is against this backdrop of the standards, assessment, and accountability movements that secondary schools craft their reform efforts. Standards
By the late 1990s nearly every state had developed standards for student achievement in most content areas. Greatest attention has been focused on "core" subjects, typically English/language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies, but "elective" courses - foreign languages, music, and visual arts, for instance - have standards as well that drive the curriculum and instruction in those subject areas. The quantity and quality of content standards vary widely from state to state, though many content-area professional organizations have developed their own national standards to provide a benchmark for rigor and appropriateness of content-area standards. Many see the standards movement as the great contemporary revolution in U.S. education: No longer is middle level or high school credit granted solely on the basis of attendance. In theory, students would not be promoted or graduated until the standards were achieved. Assessment
To assess standards achievement, most states had begun to develop standardized tests by the start of the twenty-first century. These efforts were spurred by the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires states to test every student periodically in certain secondary content areas. Like the standards themselves, the quality of assessments varies widely from state to state, and the implementation of mandatory standardized assessments has introduced several dilemmas and controversies: How do schools accommodate students with special needs and English language learners in the administration and reporting of test scores? These students are not exempt from tests, and principals and teachers struggle to find the most equitable way to honor their needs while not violating the integrity of the testing process and the value of the final results. Do standardized tests truly address the content standards? Many standards speak to higher-order thinking skills, and educators disagree on the capacity of paper-and-pencil multiple-choice tests - where one answer and only one answer is correct - to adequately gauge problem solving and critical thinking. How will test scores be used? Ideally, tests will provide a wealth of data that informs the instructional program of individual students and schools. Questions remain about the capacity of the assessment instruments to provide these data and about the professional capacity of school personnel to interpret the data for instructional decision-making. Accountability
With standards and tests in place, most states have begun to implement or develop plans to implement accountability measures for performance on standardized tests. In most cases, students who do not...
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