The education system in the United States is continually challenged to adapt and improve, in part because its mission has become far more ambitious than it once was. At the turn of the 20th century, fewer than one-tenth of students enrolled were expected to graduate from high school, and it was only in the 1960s that the expectation that all students would graduate became widespread (National Research Council, 2001). Today, most people expect schools to prepare all students to succeed in postsecondary education and to prosper in a complex, fast-changing global economy. Goals have broadened to include not only rigorous benchmarks in core academic subjects, but also technological literacy and the subtler capacities known as 21st century skills.
As these changes have taken place, education research has become increasingly clear in pointing to some of the key elements that make teaching and learning successful, and educators and leaders are under intense pressure to apply this knowledge every day in improving schools.
These high expectations mean that the American public has pressing questions about how well students are learning and how well schools are doing. Existing measures reveal some uncomfortable though important truths about gaps in student achievement and schools that are not succeeding, and they also highlight areas of considerable strength. But existing measures do not provide answers to all the questions that have been raised.
To identify the most important measures for education and other issues and provide quality data on them to the American people, Congress has authorized the creation of a Key National Indicators System (KNIS). This system would be a single web-based information source designed to help policy makers and the public better assess the position and progress of the nation across a wide range of areas.
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