A standardized test is a test that is administered and scored in a consistent, or "standard", manner. Standardized tests are designed in such a way that the questions, conditions for administering, scoring procedures, and interpretations are consistent and are administered and scored in a predetermined, standard manner.
Any test in which the same test is given in the same manner to all test takers, is a standardized test. Standardized tests do not need to be high-stakes tests, time-limited tests, or multiple-choice tests. The questions can be simple or complex. The subject matter among school-age students is frequently academic skills, but a standardized test can be given on nearly any topic, including driving tests, creativity, personality, professional ethics, or other attributes.
The opposite of standardized testing is non-standardized testing, in which either significantly different tests are given to different test takers, or the same test is assigned under significantly different conditions (e.g., one group is permitted far less time to complete the test than the next group) or evaluated differently (e.g., the same answer is counted right for one student, but wrong for another student).
Standardized tests are perceived as being fairer than non-standardized tests, because everyone gets the same test and the same grading system. This is fairer and more objective than a system in which some students get an easier test and others get a more difficult test. The consistency also permits more reliable comparison of outcomes across all test takers, because everyone is taking the same test.
- 1 History
- 2 Design and scoring
- 3 Standards
- 4 Importance of testing
- 5 Public policy
- 6 Advantages
- 7 Disadvantages and criticism
- 8 Educational decisions
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
The earliest evidence of standardized testing was in China, during the Tang Dynasty, where the imperial examinations covered the Six Arts which included music, archery and horsemanship, arithmetic, writing, and knowledge of the rituals and ceremonies of both public and private parts. These exams were used to select employees for the state bureaucracy.
Later, sections on military strategies, civil law, revenue and taxation, agriculture and geography were added to the testing. In this form, the examinations were institutionalized for more than a millennium. Today, standardized testing remains widely used, most famously in the Gaokao system.
Standardized testing was introduced into Europe in the early 19th century, modeled on the Chinese mandarin examinations, through the advocacy of British colonial administrators, the most "persistent" of which was Britain's consul in Guangzhou, China, Thomas Taylor Meadows. Meadows warned of the collapse of the British Empire if standardized testing was not implemented throughout the empire immediately.
Prior to their adoption, standardized testing was not traditionally a part of Western pedagogy; based on the skeptical and open-ended tradition of debate inherited from Ancient Greece, Western academia favored non-standardized assessments using essays written by students. It is because of this, that the first European implementation of standardized testing did not occur in Europe proper, but in British India. Inspired by the Chinese use of standardized testing, in the early 19th century, British "company managers hired and promoted employees based on competitive examinations in order to prevent corruption and favoritism." This practice of standardized testing was later adopted in the late 19th century by the British mainland. The parliamentary debates that ensued made many references to the "Chinese mandarin system."
It was from Britain that standardized testing spread, not only throughout the British Commonwealth, but to Europe and then America. Its spread was fueled by the Industrial Revolution. The increase in number of school students during and after the Industrial Revolution, as a result of compulsory education laws, decreased the use of open-ended assessment, which was harder to mass-produce and assess objectively due to its intrinsically subjective nature. For instance, measurement error is easy to determine in standardized testing, whereas in open-ended assessment, graders have more individual discretion and therefore are more likely to produce unfair results through unconscious bias. When the score depends upon the graders' individual preferences, then the result an individual student receives depends upon who grades the test.
More recently, standardized testing has been shaped in part, by the ease and low cost of grading of multiple-choice tests by computer. Though the process is more difficult than grading multiple-choice tests electronically, essays can also be graded by computer. In other instances, essays and other open-ended responses are graded according to a pre-determined assessment rubric by trained graders. For example, at Pearson, all essay graders have four-year university degrees, and a majority are current or former classroom teachers.
Standardized testing has been a part of American education since the 1800s, but the widespread reliance on standardized is largely a 20th-century phenomenon, with origins in World War I and the Army Alpha and Beta tests developed by Robert Yerkes and colleagues. Before then, immigration in the mid-19th century contributed to the growth of standardized tests in the United States. Standardized tests were used in immigration when people first came over to test social roles and find social power and status.
In 1959, Everett Lindquist offered the ACT (American College Testing) for the first time. The ACT currently includes 4 main sections with multiple choice questions to test English, mathematics, reading, and science, plus an optional writing section.
Large population state testing began in the 1970s, and in the 1980s America began to assess nationally. The need for the federal government to make meaningful comparisons across a highly de-centralized (locally controlled) public education system has also contributed to the debate about standardized testing, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 that required standardized testing in public schools. U.S. Public Law 107-110, known as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, further ties public school funding to standardized testing. The goal of No Child Left Behind was to improve the education system in the United States by holding school and teachers accountable and attempting to close the educational gap between minority and non-minority children in public schools. Students' results on standardized tests were used to allocate funds and other resources such as teachers and administrators to schools. This policy does not provide a federal standard for schools, but allows each state to set their own standards.
Standardized testing is a very common way of determining a student's past academic achievement and future potential. However, high-stakes tests (whether standardized or non-standardized) can cause anxiety. When teachers or schools are rewarded for better performance on tests, then those rewards encourage teachers to "teach to the test" instead of providing a rich and broad curriculum. As a result, standardized testing has become controversial in the United States.
The Australian National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) or known as standardized testing was commenced in 2008 by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, an independent authority "responsible for the development of a national curriculum, a national assessment program and a national data collection and reporting program that supports 21st century learning for all Australian students".
The testing includes all students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in Australian schools to be assessed using national tests. The subjects covered in these testings include Reading, Writing, Language Conventions (Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation) and Numeracy.
The program presents students level reports designed to enable parents to see their child's progress over the course of their schooling life, and help teachers to improve individual learning opportunities for their students. Students and school level data are also provided to the appropriate school system on the understanding that they can be used to target specific supports and resources to schools that need them most. Teachers and schools use this information, in conjunction with other information, to determine how well their students are performing and to identify any areas of need requiring assistance.
The concept of testing student achievement is not new, although the current Australian approach may be said to have its origins in current educational policy structures in both the USA and the UK. There are several key differences between the Australian NAPLAN and the UK and USA strategies. Schools that are found to be under-performing in the Australian context will be offered financial assistance under the current federal government policy.
Design and scoring
Standardized testing can be composed of multiple-choice questions, true-false questions, essay questions, authentic assessments, or nearly any other form of assessment. Multiple-choice and true-false items are often chosen because they can be given and scored inexpensively, quickly, and reliably through using special answer sheets that can be read by a computer or via computer-adaptive testing. Some standardized tests have short-answer or essay writing components that are assigned a score by independent evaluators who use rubrics (rules or guidelines) and benchmark papers (examples of papers for each possible score) to determine the grade to be given to a response. Not all standardized tests involve answering questions; an authentic assessment for athletic skills could take the form of running for a set amount of time or dribbling a ball for a certain distance.
Most national and international assessments, however, are not fully evaluated by people; people are used to score items that are not able to be scored easily by computer (such as essays). For example, the Graduate Record Exam is a computer-adaptive assessment that requires no scoring by people except for the writing portion.
The term "normative assessment" refers to the process of comparing one test-taker to his or her peers. A norm-referenced test (NRT) is a type of test, assessment, or evaluation which yields an estimate of the position of the tested individual in a predefined population. The estimate is derived from the analysis of test scores and other relevant data from a sample drawn from the population. This type of test identifies whether the test taker performed better or worse than other students taking this test. A criterion-referenced test (CRT) is a style of test which uses test scores to show whether or not test takers performed well on a given task, not how well they performed compared to other test takers. Most tests and quizzes that are written by school teachers can be considered criterion-referenced tests. In this case, the objective is simply to see whether the student has learned the material.
Human scoring is relatively expensive and often variable, which is why computer scoring is preferred when feasible. For example, some critics say that poorly paid employees will score tests badly. Agreement between scorers can vary between 60 and 85 percent, depending on the test and the scoring session. Sometimes states pay to have two or more scorers read each paper; if their scores do not agree, then the paper is passed to additional scorers.
Open-ended components of tests are often only a small proportion of the test. Most commonly, a major academic test includes both human-scored and computer-scored sections.
|Student answers||Standardized grading||Non-standardized grading|
|Grading rubric: Answers must be marked correct if they mention at least one of the following: Germany's invasion of Poland, Japan's invasion of China, or economic issues.||No grading standards. Each teacher grades however he or she wants to, considering whatever factors the teacher chooses, such as the answer, the amount of effort, the student's academic background, language ability, or attitude.|
WWII was caused by Hitler and Germany invading Poland.
WWII was caused by multiple factors, including the Great Depression and the general economic situation, the rise of national socialism, fascism, and imperialist expansionism, and unresolved resentments related to WWI. The war in Europe began with the German invasion of Poland.
WWII was caused by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.
- Norm-referenced score interpretations compare test-takers to a sample of peers. The goal is to rank students as being better or worse than other students. Norm-referenced test score interpretations are associated with traditional education. Students who perform better than others pass the test, and students who perform worse than others fail the test.
- Criterion-referenced score interpretations compare test-takers to a criterion (a formal definition of content), regardless of the scores of other examinees. These may also be described as standards-based assessments, as they are aligned with the standards-based education reform movement. Criterion-referenced score interpretations are concerned solely with whether or not this particular student's answer is correct and complete. Under criterion-referenced systems, it is possible for all students to pass the test, or for all students to fail the test.
Either of these systems can be used in standardized testing. What is important to standardized testing is whether all students are asked equivalent questions, under equivalent circumstances, and graded equally. In a standardized test, if a given answer is correct for one student, it is correct for all students. Graders do not accept an answer as good enough for one student but reject the same answer as inadequate for another student.
The considerations of validity and reliability typically are viewed as essential elements for determining the quality of any standardized test. However, professional and practitioner associations frequently have placed these concerns within broader contexts when developing standards and making overall judgments about the quality of any standardized test as a whole within a given context.
In the field of evaluation, and in particular educational evaluation, the Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation has published three sets of standards for evaluations. The Personnel Evaluation Standards was published in 1988, The Program Evaluation Standards (2nd edition) was published in 1994, and The Student Evaluation Standards was published in 2003.
Each publication presents and elaborates a set of standards for use in a variety of educational settings. The standards provide guidelines for designing, implementing, assessing and improving the identified form of evaluation. Each of the standards has been placed in one of four fundamental categories to promote educational evaluations that are proper, useful, feasible, and accurate. In these sets of standards, validity and reliability considerations are covered under the accuracy topic. For example, the student accuracy standards help ensure that student evaluations will provide sound, accurate, and credible information about student learning and performance.
In the field of psychometrics, the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing place standards about validity and reliability, along with errors of measurement and issues related to the accommodation of individuals with disabilities. The third and final major topic covers standards related to testing applications, credentialing, plus testing in program evaluation and public policy.
Importance of testing
Standardised testing is considered important and these tests do assess what is taught on the national level. They are used to measure objectives and how schools are meeting educational state standards.
There are three primary reasons for Standardized tests: Comparing among test takers, Improvement of ongoing instruction and learning, and Evaluation of instruction.
Considering the information presented above, students undergoing the testing have been told to not spend copious amounts of their own time to study and prepare for the tests, although students believe they need to do well to ensure they don't let down their school.
Standardized tests put large amounts of pressure on students. Some children who are considered at the top of their class choke when it comes to standardized tests such as the citywide.
Reflection of testing
Parents and community activates around the country explain that the education system are failing student. Standardized testing is included in efforts to improve the education system. Standardized testing gives a detailed account of how student improvement and teach effectiveness are evaluated, which can show how the school effectiveness sits on a national scale.
Standardized testing is used as a public policy strategy to establish stronger accountability measures for public education. While the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) has served as an educational barometer for some thirty years by administering standardized tests on a regular basis to random schools throughout the United States, efforts over the last decade at the state and federal levels have mandated annual standardized test administration for all public schools across the country.
The idea behind the standardized testing policy movement is that testing is the first step to improving schools, teaching practice, and educational methods through data collection. Proponents argue that the data generated by the standardized tests act like a 'report card' for the community, demonstrating how well local schools are performing. Critics of the movement, however, point to various discrepancies that result from current state standardized testing practices, including problems with test validity and reliability and false correlations (see Simpson's paradox).
Critics[who?] charge that standardized tests became a mandatory curriculum placed into schools without public debate and without any accountability measures of its own. Many feel this ignores basic democratic principles in that control of schools' curricula is removed from local school boards, which are the nominal curricular authority in the U.S. While some maintain that it would be preferable to simply introduce mandatory national curricula, others feel that state mandated standardized testing should stop altogether in order that schools can focus their efforts on instructing their students as they see fit.
Critics also charge that standardized tests encourage "teaching to the test" at the expense of creativity and in-depth coverage of subjects not on the test. Multiple choice tests are criticized for failing to assess skills such as writing. Furthermore, student's success is being tracked to a teacher's relative performance, making teacher advancement contingent upon a teacher's success with a student's academic performance. Ethical and economical questions arise for teachers when faced with clearly underperforming or underskilled students and a standardized test.
Critics also object to the type of material that is typically tested by schools. Although standardized tests for non-academic attributes such as the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking exist, schools rarely give standardized tests to measure initiative, creativity, imagination, curiosity, good will, ethical reflection, or a host of other valuable dispositions and attributes. Instead, the tests given by schools tend to focus less on moral or character development, and more on individual identifiable academic skills.
One of the main advantages of standardized testing is that the results can be empirically documented; therefore, the test scores can be shown to have a relative degree of validity and reliability, as well as results which are generalizable and replicable. This is often contrasted with grades on a school transcript, which are assigned by individual teachers. It may be difficult to account for differences in educational culture across schools, difficulty of a given teacher's curriculum, differences in teaching style, and techniques and biases that affect grading. This makes standardized tests useful for admissions purposes in higher education, where a school is trying to compare students from across the nation or across the world. Examples of such international benchmark tests include the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). Performance on these exams have been speculated to change based on the way standards like the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) line up with top countries across the world.
There are three metrics by which the best performing countries in the TIMMS (the "A+ countries") are measured: focus, coherence, and rigor. Focus is defined as the number of topics covered in each grade; the idea is that the fewer topics covered in each grade, the more focus can be given to each topic. The definition of coherence is adhering to a sequence of topics covered that follows the natural progression or logical structure of mathematics. The CCSSM was compared to both the current state standards and the A+ country standards. With the most number of topics covered on average, the current state standards had the lowest focus. The Common Core Standards aim to fix this discrepancy by helping educators focus on what students need to learn instead of becoming distracted by extraneous topics. They encourage educational materials to go from covering a vast array of topics in a shallow manner to a few topics in much more depth.
Standardized tests also remove teacher bias in assessment. Research shows that teachers create a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy in their assessment of students, granting those they anticipate will achieve with higher scores and giving those who they expect to fail lower grades.
Another advantage is aggregation. A well designed standardized test provides an assessment of an individual's mastery of a domain of knowledge or skill which at some level of aggregation will provide useful information. That is, while individual assessments may not be accurate enough for practical purposes, the mean scores of classes, schools, branches of a company, or other groups may well provide useful information because of the reduction of error accomplished by increasing the sample size.
Opponents claim that standardized tests are misused and uncritical judgments of intelligence and performance, but supporters argue that these aren't negatives of standardized tests, but criticisms of poorly designed testing regimes. They argue that testing should and does focus educational resources on the most important aspects of education — imparting a pre-defined set of knowledge and skills — and that other aspects are either less important, or should be added to the testing scheme.
Former Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton has come out in favor of the Common Core State Standards Initiative and its form of assessment. She said that Iowa's education system has had a standardized curriculum and examination for years and that they "see the value in it."  Other states, she noted, are hesitant to implement standardized curriculum and tests because they haven't had the experience of it. Clinton vocally supports the initiative and standardized tests.
Disadvantages and criticism
- Validity, efficacy, and predictive power. Many contend that overuse and misuse of these tests harms teaching and learning by narrowing the curriculum. According to the group FairTest, when standardized tests are the primary factor in accountability, schools use the tests to narrowly define curriculum and focus instruction. Accountability creates an immense pressure to perform and this can lead to the misuse and misinterpretation of standardized tests. FairTest says that negative consequences of test misuse include narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, pushing students out of school, driving teachers out of the profession, and undermining student engagement and school climate. Critics say that "teaching to the test" disfavors higher-order learning. While it is possible to use a standardized test without letting its contents determine curriculum and instruction, frequently, what is not tested is not taught, and how the subject is tested often becomes a model for how to teach the subject.
- Uncritical use of standardized test scores to evaluate teacher and school performance is inappropriate, because the students' scores are influenced by three things: what students learn in school, what students learn outside of school, and the students' innate intelligence. The school only has control over one of these three factors. Value-added modeling has been proposed to cope with this criticism by statistically controlling for innate ability and out-of-school contextual factors. In a value-added system of interpreting test scores, analysts estimate an expected score for each student, based on factors such as the student's own previous test scores, primary language, or socioeconomic status. The difference between the student's expected score and actual score is presumed to be due primarily to the teacher's efforts.
- Notable Opponents. In her book, Now You See It, Cathy Davidson criticizes standardized tests. She describes our youth as "assembly line kids on an assembly line model," meaning the use of standardized test as a part of a one-size-fits-all educational model. She also criticizes the narrowness of skills being tested and labeling children without these skills as failures or as students with disabilities. Widespread and organized cheating has been a growing culture in today's reformation of schools.
- Education theorist Bill Ayers has commented on the limitations of the standardized test, writing that "Standardized tests can't measure initiative, creativity, imagination, conceptual thinking, curiosity, effort, irony, judgment, commitment, nuance, good will, ethical reflection, or a host of other valuable dispositions and attributes. What they can measure and count are isolated skills, specific facts and function, content knowledge, the least interesting and least significant aspects of learning." In his book, The Shame of the Nation, Jonathan Kozol argues that students submitted to standardized testing are victims of "cognitive decapitation." Kozol comes to this realization after speaking to many children in inner city schools who have no spatial recollection of time, time periods, and historical events. This is especially the case in schools where due to shortages in funding and strict accountability policies, schools have done away with subjects like the arts, history and geography; in order to focus on the contest of the mandated tests.
- On a student and educator level. There is criticism from students themselves that tests, while standardized, are unfair to the individual student. Some students are "bad test takers", meaning they get nervous and unfocused on tests. Therefore, while the test is standard and should provide fair results, the test takers are at a disadvantage, but have no way to prove their knowledge otherwise, as there is no other testing alternative that allows students to prove their knowledge and problem-solving skills.
- Some students suffer from test anxiety. Test anxiety applies to standardized tests as well, where students who may not have test anxiety regularly feel immense pressure to perform when the stakes are so high. High stakes standardized testing includes exams like the SAT, the PARCC, and the ACT, where doing well is required for grade passing or college admission.
- Standardized tests are a way to measure the education level of students and schools on a broad scale. From Kindergarten to 12th grade, students participate in required test taking. In that amount of time, the average student takes 112 standardized tests, which equates to about 10 tests per year. At this rate, the average amount of testing takes about 2.3% of total class time. Although standardized tests were designed to improve the education system, they are creating many negative effects on students and teachers.
- Standardized testing puts pressure not only on students, but on teachers as well. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has proposed educational reform in New Jersey that pressures teachers not only to "teach to the test," but also have their students perform at the potential cost of their salary and job security. The reform calls for performance-based pay that depends on students' performances on standardized tests and their educational gains. However, students vary based on cognitive, developmental, and psychological abilities, so it is unfair to teachers with students with difficulties on the test.
In an April 1995 "meta-analysis" published in the Journal of Educational and Psychological Measurement, Todd Morrison and Melanie Morrison examined two dozen validity studies of the test required to get into just about any Masters or PhD program in America: the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). This study encompassed more than 5,000 test-takers over the past 30 years. The authors found that GRE scores accounted for just 6 percent of the variation in grades in graduate school. The GRE appears to be "virtually useless from a prediction standpoint," wrote the authors. Repeated studies of the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) find the same. The SAT's maker, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), now claims the SAT is not an "aptitude" test but rather an assessment of "developed abilities."
Finally, standardized tests are not inexpensive. It has been reported that the United States spends about 1.7 billion dollars annually on these tests. In 2001, it was also reported that only three companies (Harcourt Educational Measurement, CTB McGraw-Hill and Riverside Publishing) design 96% of the tests taken at the state level.
Test scores are in some cases used as a sole, mandatory, or primary criterion for admissions or certification. For example, some U.S. states require high school graduation examinations. Adequate scores on these exit exams are required for high school graduation. The General Educational Development test is often used as an alternative to a high school diploma.
Other applications include tracking (deciding whether a student should be enrolled in the "fast" or "slow" version of a course) and awarding scholarships. In the United States, many colleges and universities automatically translate scores on Advanced Placement tests into college credit, satisfaction of graduation requirements, or placement in more advanced courses. Generalized tests such as the SAT or GRE are more often used as one measure among several, when making admissions decisions. Some public institutions have cutoff scores for the SAT, GPA, or class rank, for creating classes of applicants to automatically accept or reject.
Heavy reliance on standardized tests for decision-making is often controversial, for the reasons noted above. Critics often propose emphasizing cumulative or even non-numerical measures, such as classroom grades or brief individual assessments (written in prose) from teachers. Supporters argue that test scores provide a clear-cut, objective standard that minimizes the potential for political influence or favoritism.
The National Academy of Sciences recommends that major educational decisions not be based solely on a test score. The use of minimum cut-scores for entrance or graduation does not imply a single standard, since test scores are nearly always combined with other minimal criteria such as number of credits, prerequisite courses, attendance, etc. Test scores are often perceived as the "sole criteria" simply because they are the most difficult, or the fulfillment of other criteria is automatically assumed. One exception to this rule is the GED, which has allowed many people to have their skills recognized even though they did not meet traditional criteria.
- Concept inventory
- Educational assessment
- List of standardized tests in the United States
- Standards-based assessment
- Test (assessment)
- Alternative assessment
- Campbell's law
- Criterion-referenced test
- High school graduation exam
- IBM 805 Test Scoring Machine
- Norm-referenced test
- Standards-based education reform
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