Following years of complaints from both employers and academic institutions of higher learning (that many high school graduates lacked basic educational skills in reading, writing, and math), both legislators and educators agreed to work toward raising educational standards nationwide. This has resulted in renewed focus on learning rather than remediation and more accountability for teachers and school systems.
Educational standards (and correlative exams) for gauging performance have been criticized in the past for being local or parochial in substance, making grades and class standing a “relative” achievement based only upon how well others in the same school system or state performed. The Education Reform Act helped standardize student performance on a national level, but new questions were raised as to whether teachers were actually enhancing learning skills or merely “teaching to the test,” (i.e., merely teaching those things they knew students would be tested on, in order to make the school and/or the teacher appear favorably on assessment reviews).
However, questions remain as to which system is the best to assess the academic competency of graduating students. By far the most often used tool of assessment is the multiple-choice examination, in many cases combined with a writing sample. This, in combination with passing grades in key subjects and a minimum number of credit units, seems to be a growing method of choice for ensuring minimum competency levels of high school graduates in the United States. Because graduation from high school may be dependent upon passing an “exit exam,” the process has been dubbed “high stakes testing.”