Standardized tests are tools designed to
allow measure of student performance relative to all others taking the same
Types of Standardized Tests
Standardized test come in two major types,
Norm-referenced and Criterion-referenced. Norm referenced tests measure
performance relative to all other students taking the same test. Criterion
referenced tests measure factual knowledge of a defined body of material. In
addition to these two main categories, test can also be divided up into
Performance tests and Aptitude tests. Performance tests are assessments of what
learning has already occurred in a particular subject area. Aptitude tests are
assessments of abilities or skills considered important to future success in
Until recently, most of the well-known tests
have been norm referenced. These tests are the most common and most comparable
across district and state lines. Included in this family are the Stanford
Assessment Test- 9th version (SAT-9), Iowa Test of Basic
Skills (ITBS), California Test of Basic Skills (CTBS), California
Achievement Test (CAT),), the Stanford Achievement Test, the Stanford-Binet
Intelligence Scale and the Terra Nova.
Norm-referenced tests report scores relative
to the entire population that takes the test. Hence a score of the 75th
percentile means that a student did better on the test than 75 percent of those
who took the test. It bears no direct
numerical relation to the actual number of questions answered correctly.
Criterion-referenced testing has been
increasing in popularity as States and School districts compete for funds and
for students, and seek to demonstrate that they are effectively carrying out
their primary duty of educating all children to some basic standard of
literacy, knowledge and ability. Annual testing tied to Federal Education
dollars has spurred a boom in the testing industry, as well as raised concerns
over the ability of the existing industry to handle the increased demand for
quality test development and accurate scoring.
How are standardized test scores used?
Standardize test scores are, ostensibly,
used to assess school programs are succeeding and/or to provide a picture of
the skills and abilities of the current students. Tests are intended to help
teachers and administrators evaluate the school system, a school program, or a
particular student and to make decisions regarding the instructional program
and student placement.
In theory, test scores looked at over time
will reveal how much progress schools have made in their efforts to maintain or
raise academic standards. All that can
be reliably predicted at the outset, however, is that the tests will measure
the ability of schools to maintain high scores or raise inadequate scores.
Hopefully, when competition and innovation are introduced into a school
district, test score trends can provide an objective means of evaluating the
success or failure of the new programs.
At best, standardized tests offer a snapshot
of performance relative to other students/schools or to a set body of factual
knowledge. Test scores can be skewed by a number of factors:
(Learning of test taking skills as opposed to basic knowledge)
Accuracy of test
Student disabilities or
Student readiness on
the day of the test
(It should be noted that as States develop
individual Curriculum Standards and Assessment Tests, the ability to compare
results across State lines will diminish.)
Test scores should not be sole basis for making
decisions about placement in programs or changes in curriculum for any child.
Those decisions should be made on the basis of:
- Observation in the
- Evaluation of day-to-day class work;
- Homework assignments;
- Meetings with parents;
- Observation of student change and growth throughout the year.
Quality in Standardized Testing
Laying aside the basic controversy over the
validity of standardized test to begin with, there are further concerns which
should give us pause to think about the headlong rush to tying test scores to
money for Education. In particular, test Quality is a concern.
Consider the experience of the State
Minnesota, where quality control failed to detect a relatively minor computer
error by the scoring company, which resulted in 8,000 students
"failing" a basic-skills math test they actually passed. Forty-eight
high school seniors were wrongly denied their diplomas.
Or look at the Maryland School Performance
Assessment Program. This criterion-referenced test was evaluated by a panel of
experts and found to be abysmally flawed. Inaccurate and poorly designed, it
not only failed to assess performance against the Maryland curriculum
standards, but actually failed to penalize lack of basic skills and penalized
students by applying inappropriate criteria for assessing knowledge.
So far, the issue of quality in testing
hasn’t been widely or openly discussed, but clearly it will be a matter of
importance as the amount of money spent on testing (State criterion-referenced
testing is estimated to cost up to $30/student, as much as four times what
national norm-referenced testing currently costs) and the amount of money
flowing into State educational coffers becomes score-dependent. It doesn’t take
much foresight to foresee battles at the Federal level over the allocation of
funds based not only on test scores but also on the relative rigor of State
Amidst this discussion, there are voices advocating
strongly for assessment methods, which do not rely on test scores. There are
alternative methods of assessment that are recognized to give accurate and
meaningful measures of student achievement. For many students who do not fare
well on standardized tests, these alternatives can provide a concrete means of
demonstrating their mastery of materials presented in the classroom.
assessment methods require students to generate on their own, rather than
choose a response. In other words, rather than being expected to pick the right
answer from a list of possible answers, students are expected use their
reasoning ability, creativity and knowledge to complete the task at hand.
assessment methods used in place of, or in conjunction with conventional testing
Students complete a task, which requires them to demonstrate mastery of a
specific set of skills.
Students participate in a project and generate a report which demonstrates
and understanding of the concepts and principles underlying a specific
field of study
Students research a subject, gather data and draw conclusions based on
- Oral Response: Students participating in a project are required to
make an oral presentation of their results. The content of the report, the
level of understating of the material, and the quality of the oral
presentation are evaluated.
- Portfolio:A student produces a body of work that provides an accurate reflection of
the level of individual skills and the thought processes that underlie the
execution of the work.
- Written Response: Students write essays on specific topics,
demonstrating their level of understanding of the topic and mastery of the
written word as a means of communication.
Where standardized testing provides a quick and
reproducible means of comparing student performance, most alternative methods
are more time and labor intensive. As schools are forced to focus more on
standardized testing as a means of acquiring and retaining funding, it becomes
more and more important for parents to encourage teachers, administrators and
students to broaden their view and include other forms of assessment as a
routine part of education.
Helping Your Child Do Well on Tests
However you feel about standardized testing
in general, if it is going to be a part of your child’s school career, there
are things you can do to make it the most positive experience possible:
- Be an involved parent
every day - Parental involvement…knowing your child’s progress and school, what
she or he is studying, and monitoring homework…will have an impact on the
testing experience as well as the rest of your child’s attitude towards school
- Know what tests are scheduled for what days. Make sure you know which tests are to be administered
in which grades. Check your School District calendar to find out what days test
are scheduled. Most school districts have already scheduled tests by the
beginning of the school year, so you can plan well ahead of time.
- Understand the purpose of any testing. Are these screening tests, achievement tests or aptitude tests?
How will the results be used?
- Make sure your child is well rested and eats a well-rounded diet. Especially for older children taking
tests like the SATs, the night before a test might be stressful and sleep might
not come easily. Encourage students to get several nights of good solid rest
before a test and to eat well.
- Don't place too much emphasis on the test, even if you know the results are important, but encourage your child to take tests seriously.
- Don't judge your child on the basis of a simple test score.