Back in 1984, Zollie Stevenson Jr. was on the front lines in a state that was experimenting with setting academic standards and creating tests aligned with them.
Fresh off earning his doctorate in educational psychology, Mr. Stevenson worked as a regional coordinator for research and testing at the North Carolina education department. He helped 17 school districts implement the state’s new assessment system—one of the first in the nation to measure students against a standard rather than a national norm.
Now, Mr. Stevenson is at the center of the action for all 50 states. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings recently promoted him to director of the office that runs the federal Title I program.
One of his main tasks is to oversee states’ development of tests and accountability systems under the 6-year-old No Child Left Behind Act—a law that put into practice some of the ideas that North Carolina helped pioneer in the 1980s.
In his new position, Mr. Stevenson, 55, has one of the most important Education Department jobs not filled by political appointment.
“Accountability is up there as number one as what our work will be,” said Mr. Stevenson, who has worked at the U.S. Department of Education in various jobs since 2000, most recently as the deputy director of the Title I office.
“It’s time to take a critical look at the processes we’ve been using” to evaluate states’ work in carrying out the provisions of the NCLB law, he added.
His office administers programs with a total annual budget of more than $14 billion, the largest chunk of which is in the Title I program for disadvantaged students.
Title I has been the centerpiece of federal K-12 policy since the enactment of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965.
However the currently stalled reauthorization of the NCLB law by Congress turns out, Mr. Stevenson expects to be at the center of the debate he’s been immersed in for 20-plus years.
“Clearly, accountability is going to be part of the future,” Mr. Stevenson said. “The question is how much change is going to be made.”
A version of this article appeared in the April 09, 2008 edition of Education Week