Since the 1980s, the English education system has been a site of experimentation and reform, with test-driven accountability as the predominant form of quality control. The high-stakes accountability system in England is the result of a complex articulation of standardized assessments, end-of-secondary high-stakes examination, and a consequential inspection system that combines public display of performance data via rating systems and league tables. In primary, Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) in English and math are used to measure pupils’ progress between Year 2 and Year 6, and schools’ effectiveness are determined on the basis of these scores, which are publicly available. In addition, there is a range of ad hoc focused tests or “checks” scattered across primary schooling, such as the Phonics Screening Check (Year 1) and the Multiplication Tables Check (Year 4). The main assessment for KS4 is a tiered exit qualification known as General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSEs), which determine school and college sixth-form options (A levels) and subsequent eligibility for university courses. As data and metrics are increasingly privileged over teacher expertise and professional judgment, schools face tremendous pressure to comply with mounting data and inspection demands, resulting in homogenous and rigid practices. Arguably, recent policy reforms at both ends of compulsory schooling, such as the Reception Baseline Assessment (2020) and Progress 8 (2016), were introduced with the aim of mitigating some of the negative effects that layers of test-based accountability had on teaching and learning. However, a closer look at the internal logic of these reforms reveals further intensification of output-driven pedagogy at the expense of equity, well-being, and justice.
High-stakes standardized tests standardize which knowledge is assessed, and because consequences are tied to their results, they have the impact of standardizing classroom content, teaching, and learning. The result is that students whose cultural identities do not fit the standardized norms created by test-based must either adapt or are left out of the curriculum and the classroom. This happens in a few key ways. First, as schools face increased pressure to raise test scores, curriculum content that embraces the diversity of student history, culture, and experience gets pushed out. In turn, this standardization of content limits the diversity of teacher and student identities expressed in classroom pedagogical experiences. Finally, given the disparate racial achievement on high-stakes tests, students of color face more intense pressure to perform, while at the same time their educational experiences become increasingly restricted and less rich than those of affluent, whiter students. Additionally, even though educational research has consistently shown that high-stakes testing correlates most strongly with the socioeconomic backgrounds of students and their communities, policymakers and many educators presume that these tests are offer objective measurements of individual merit. This mistaken belief ulitmately serves to hide and justify existing inequalities in the United States under the notion of individual achievement. The overall result being that high-stakes, standardized tests reproduce educational inequalities associated with race and class in the United States.
Social studies education has had a turbulent history as one of the core subjects in the school curriculum. The fundamental content of the social studies curriculum – the study of human enterprise across space and time –however, has always been at the core of educational endeavors. It is generally accepted that the formal introduction of social studies to the school curriculum was instigated by the 1916 report of the National Education Association’s Committee on Social Studies, which emphasized development of citizenship values as a core aim of history and social science education. Earlier commissions of the N.E.A. and American Historical Association heavily influenced the Committee on Social Studies recommendations. The roots of the contemporary social studies curriculum, therefore, can be traced to two distinct curriculum reform efforts: the introduction of academic history into the curriculum and citizenship education. There is widespread agreement that the aim of social studies is citizenship education, that is the preparation of young people so that they possess the knowledge, skills, and values necessary for active participation in society. This apparent consensus, however, has been described as almost meaningless because social studies educators continue to be at odds over curricular content as well as the conception of what it means to be a good citizen. Since its formal introduction into the school, social studies curriculum been the subject of numerous commission and blue-ribbon panel studies, ranging from the sixteen-volume report of the American Historical Association’s Commission on Social Studies in the 1930s to the more recent movement for national curriculum standards. Separate and competing curriculum standards have been published for no less than seven areas of that are part of the social studies curriculum: United States and global history, economics, geography, civics, psychology, and social studies. Social studies curriculum is defined a lack of consensus and has been an ideological battleground with ongoing debates over its nature, purpose, and content. Historically there have been a diverse range of curricular programs that have been a prominent within social studies education at various times, including the life adjustment movement, progressive education, social reconstructionism, and nationalistic history. The debate over the nature, purpose, and content of the social studies curriculum continues today, with competing groups variously arguing for a social issues approach, the disciplinary study of history and geography, or action for social justice as the most appropriate framework for the social studies curriculum.