One of the fundamental problems in the American public school system, as I see it, is a lack of ability to answer your second question. The priorities of the schools are often placed on the measures of success but there seems to be a lack of definition as to the point of education.
Obviously, if a system wants to emphasize success it should have a firm grasp on what its goals are, otherwise the tests and test scores become largely meaningless.
I think this is an issue that needs to be worked out and is being worked out, but as of today there is a definite lack of clarity of purpose as to what education is truly supposed to do. Saying that schools are there "to help students learn" and "prepare them for the future" is far too vague to be helpful.
That is, in part, how the education standards movement came into being, as a way to narrow the scope of appropriate studies and necessary skills. However, as the "preferred skill set" has become further refined and delineated, the rationale for choosing that skill set has been lost. Finding a Big Picture view of American education is rather more difficult than it should be, in my opinion.