The ABC’s of Standardized Testing
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
Every fall or spring public schools go through the annual rite of testing. This process is hardly new. Standardized tests have been used by public schools since the 1920’s. And due to the continuing pressures to evaluate the progress of students nationwide, they are even more widely used today.
Standardized tests are objective measures given in the exact same way to all students. They are often required by states as a way of evaluating the progress of students in elementary, middle and high school. The test content varies with the grade. The tests are predominantly multiple choice but more and more they are incorporating written samples.
Standardized tests are intended to give parents information about their children, teachers information about their students, and school districts information about the effectiveness of their programs. They are developed in such a way that a student’s test scores can be compared with those of other students in the same grade. They provide precise information about students’ academic skills and allow us to determine whether they are above, at, or below grade level in their basic academic skills.
School districts typically employ two kinds of standardized tests: aptitude tests and achievement tests. An aptitude test such as an intelligence test measures how much a student is capable of learning while an achievement test measures how much she has already learned. School achievement tests always assess reading and math but they may also evaluate spelling, language, science, social studies and library skills. By comparing a student’s scores on an achievement and aptitude test, you can make a rough judgment whether she is achieving on a par with her academic ability.
Parents may experience both apprehension and confusion as a result of the testing process. Their apprehension is understandable: test scores indicate how their child’s academic skills compare with those of other children. In addition, the results may be used to make important educational decisions about their child. Their confusion is not surprising: the maze of numbers, graphs and terms can baffle the most sophisticated of parents.
Because of the potential impact of test results on a child’s education, it is vital that you try to make sense of your child’s scores. In this way, you can make sure they are being used properly to educate your child. At the same time, you need to be cautious in drawing conclusions about her skills just from these test scores. Standardized test results convey a picture of a student’s skills at a particular point in time; they are, in effect, a snapshot of a moving target. As a result, they should never be the sole basis for school decisions. These decisions must also consider teacher and parent judgments, grades and classroom performance.