OBE in the United States

In the early 1990s, several standards-based reform measures were passed in various states, creating the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (1991), Washington Assessment of Student Learning (1993), the CLAS in California (1993), and the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (1993).

At the national level, Congress passed the Goals 2000 act in 1994. The best-known and most far-reaching standards-based education law in the U.S. is the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated certain measurements as a condition of receiving federal education funds. States are free to set their own standards, but the federal law mandates public reporting of math and reading test scores for disadvantaged demographic subgroups, including racial minorities, low-income students, and special education students. Various consequences for schools that do not make "adequate yearly progress" are included in the law.

At the state level, exit examinations have proliferated, and now more than half of US high school students will be required to pass a high-stakes test to get a normal high school diploma. In some states, fewer than half of students and one-quarter of ethnic minorities have met these standards.

In some communities, such as Littleton, Colorado, organized opposition groups have forced educational agencies to rescind reforms.  In Littleton, community members felt that vague, nonacademic outcomes were replacing content, and that technically unsound assessments would be used to determine something as important as high school graduation. They also objected to students being refused a high school diploma if they could not perform 36 separate mathematics skills, despite being given good grades in class.

OBE diplomas
A certificate of initial mastery was a program to provide students with an interim certification around the age of 16. The certificate was earned by taking and passing a written test, which had been designed to determine whether a student was performing at about the tenth grade level. A student who passed the 10th grade test would receive a Certificate of Initial Mastery.

The CIM concept was patterned after nations like Germany's hauptschule system, in which the students who are not going to elite universities end their school-based education around age 16 and start career-oriented training in fields like construction technology, allied health professions, and business. In a typical US proposal, a student who received a CIM would then take two more years of career-based training. A national standards board was proposed to create similar tests for eight career fields, with the hope that employers would prefer certificated employees.

The CIM has been essentially abandoned; however, in its place, states frequently require passing the same exam as a condition of receiving a high school diploma. Oregon had proposed a CAM for "advanced mastery" at the 12th grade.

OBE's relationship to college
One ironic effect of high school exit examinations is that it may become more difficult to graduate from high school than enter college. There is no set passing level for college entry tests like the SAT, and such tests are often not required by the lowest-rated colleges.

In the future, some states may require criterion-based standards either for admission to or graduation from public universities. States are attempting to align high school curricula with the minimum standards for beginning college in an effort to reduce college dropouts and the number of remedial classes being taught at universities.