Currently, an educational reform movement is sweeping across K—12 public education in the United States, affecting millions of schoolchildren and youths.1 This collective, pervasive, and top-down course of action—which I refer to as the “standards-based school reform movement” —holds students, educators, and administrators accountable for reaching specific benchmarks (e.g., minimum test performance by students on state-mandated tests). This movement has its roots in the 1983 volume A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983), produced by a commission appointed by Terrell H. Bell, Secretary of Education in the Reagan Administration. In its highly critical observations of the crisis in American education, A Nation at Risk commented, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might have viewed it as an act of war” (p. 1).2 This indictment of the “rising tide of mediocrity” (p. 1) laid the foundation of the standards-based school reform movement, including goals such as (a) combining the old basics with the new basics (e.g., computer literacy), (b) more time devoted to learning; (c) more testing, (d) measurable standards, and (e) higher-quality teaching (see Pearl, 2002).
“Accountability”—the standards-based school reform movement's mantra—is being driven by high-stakes testing, a form of assessment in which test results hold important consequences for students, their parents and teachers, schools, districts, and administrators. As of 2005, nineteen states had exit-level tests that all students must pass to graduate from high school, and seven other states will phase in exit exams by 2012 (Center on Education Policy, 2005).3 About 72% of all U.S. students enrolled in high school in 2012 will be required to pass exit-level exams in order to graduate, a sharp increase from the 50% of students affected by such exams in 2005. High school exit-level exams will have an even greater effect on students of color. An estimated 82% of minority-group students and 87% of