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Competency Testing

Since the 1980s, education reform has focused on "performance-based standards," which require a minimum level of academic achievement before which students may graduate. Or competency testing section has articles on exit options for high school graduation, including the various diplomas (i.e. standard diplomas, individual education plan (IEP) diplomas, occupational diplomas). Each state has its own laws and educational regulations, including competency testing rules. There are also legal challenges to competency tests for setting educational standards. This section provides information and resources on a variety of competency related matters, including background information on competency testing, state laws, legal authority and challenges, and more.

Competency Testing Background Information

Student testing for the purpose of monitoring academic achievement began in the United States in the 1970s, when some states began making passage of an "exit examination" a prerequisite for high school graduation. These exams were intended to enhance teacher quality, while also improving student achievement in response to the public perception of a lack of basic skills by high school graduates. States began developing strategies to address the issues they perceived within their communities, but little consensus developed and public sentiment remained uncertain about the quality of public school educations.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) is a national law that sought to concentrate federal funding on school districts that demonstrated the most improvement in student performance year-over-year. NCLBA required school districts to test students at least once in high school, with many schools using their existing high school exit exams to meet this requirement. The conditioning of funding on these scores have resulted in increased pressure on students and teachers and complaints that programs "teach to the test" rather than providing a well-rounded education. State differences in standards for these tests have failed to eliminate inconsistent standards between states. School districts are permitted to waive out of the NCLBA requirements.

What is Common Core?

The Common Core Standards Initiative was developed in 2009 with the goal of ensuring that high school graduates possess the skill and knowledge necessary to succeed in life. The federal government was not involved in the development of Common Core, but has encouraged states to adopt and participate in the project. Quite nearly every state has done so. The standard for classroom material, according to Common Core, requires that material be:

  • research and evidence based
  • clear, understandable, and consistent
  • aligned with college and career expectations
  • based on rigorous content and application of knowledge through higher-order thinking skills
  • built upon the strengths and lessons of current state standards
  • informed by other top performing countries in order to prepare students for success in the global economy and society

The standards describe, grade by grade, the reading and math skills that students are expected to attain from kindergarten to high school. However, states have implemented Common Core Standards at different rates, which make assessing the results challenging. However, the responses from states that adopted and implemented Common Core standards early on have showed disappointing results. Supporters of the system claim that their assessments are tougher than the traditional tests and blame this fact on the low scores produced by schools that adopted Common Core.

Learn About Competency Testing