||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (November 2015)|
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 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 more fair than non-standardized tests, because everyone gets the same test and the same grading system. This is more fair 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 Advantages
- 5 Effects
- 6 Public policy
- 7 Disadvantages and criticism
- 8 Scoring information loss
- 9 Educational decisions
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
The earliest evidence of standardized testing was in China, 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. 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.
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. Given the large number of school students during and after the Industrial Revolution, when compulsory education laws increased student populations, open-ended assessment of all students decreased. Moreover, the lack of a standardized process introduces a substantial source of measurement error, as graders might show favoritism or might disagree with each other about the relative merits of different answers.
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.
The use of standardized testing in the United States is a 20th-century phenomenon with its 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.
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 and quickly by scoring special answer sheets by 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 assessments, however, are not scored 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.
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 to 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.
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.
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.
Standardized tests, which by definition give all test-takers the same test under the same (or reasonably equal) conditions, are also perceived as being more fair than assessments that use different questions or different conditions for students according to their race, socioeconomic status, or other considerations.
||The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (June 2014)|
||The neutrality of this section is disputed. (April 2015)|
Standardized tests are used in every school around the United States in nearly every grade level. These tests are referred to as high-stakes testing and come with many names such as Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, ACT, and SAT; however they all serve the same purpose. All of the testing given in this manner is used to judge the performance of the nation's students and determine their proficiency amongst their peers. Teachers are also measured based on students’ results on standardized tests. If a student is found to be less than average it is said to reflect on the teacher and his/her abilities. The other problem with SAT, and ACT, is that the tests don't test people who are talented in other domains such as, art, athletics, creative writing and many others.
Testing in schools is used in a wide variety of ways: placing children into learning groups, ranking schools amongst others in the region, state, and nation, and creating a visual for where the United States as a whole is heading. What surprises many is standardized testing may also be a way schools determine merit pay for teachers. Teachers in all grade levels are encouraged to shape their classroom around the upcoming test in hopes that their students outperform others. The effects of this kind of teaching are not beneficial to anyone, except potentially the teacher whose students do well. In the article "Standardized Testing and Its Victims" author Alfie Kohn states, “Schools across the country are cutting back or even eliminating programs in the arts, recess for young children, electives for high schoolers, class meetings (and other activities intended to promote social and moral learning), discussions about current events (since that material will not appear on the test), the use of literature in the early grades (if the tests are focused narrowly on decoding skills), and entire subject areas such as science (if the tests only cover language arts and math)” (Kohn 1).
Cutting back on real classroom learning is taking its toll on teachers who were genuinely interested in reaching out to the youth and helping them grow. “Many educators are leaving the field because of what is being done to schools in the name of ‘accountability’ and ‘tougher standards’” (Kohn 1). Teachers are becoming displeased with the field and the ones who genuinely care about student growth are abdicating their roles as educators simply because it has become a twisted version of what it used to be. Prospective educators are now second guessing their choice of careers due to the pressure that will be put upon them to produce the high test scores that matter the most to their potential employers.
With all the stress teachers and administrators are under it would be unreasonable to think it does not rub off on the students as well. Some schools go as far as putting up a visual aid to show where their students fall compared to their classmates. This allows the students to see which of their classmates are proficient, which can be embarrassing for students who fall below the given line. Teachers have many chances to attain their merit pay; a student may only have one chance to pass a test allowing them to move to the next grade level. A single test can determine the outcome of a student’s entire educational career; not doing well can be a detriment to their self-esteem. A fourth grader does not need to feel devalued because of a test - they are still developing at an unsteady pace and expecting them all to fall into a neat category of proficiency is simply not acceptable. “Virtually all specialists condemn the practice of giving standardized tests to children younger than 8 or 9 years old” (Kohn 1).
Students feel the pressure put upon them in a completely different way than an adult would. When asked if students feel the pressure to achieve higher scores on standardized tests educator, Ashley Grossman, states, “I don't think they fully understand it. They feel intimidated and stressed around test time but some of them are like that with any test” (Grossman). Children cannot feel pressured constantly without it having a negative impact on their emotional and potentially physical state. Stress impacts children much the same as it can an adult, sometimes more severe. According to author Josh Ska, “Symptoms of too much stress are usually very evident in children, although they might be mistaken for being rebellious or difficult. A child who frequently blows up over nothing may be having problems at school or at home which are causing chronic stress. Another possible sign of stress is jumpiness or nervousness and poor concentration, which may affect schoolwork. Children who are stressed out may also stop eating or get sick more frequently. The constant adrenaline rush can keep them awake at night and you might notice that your child seems to have insomnia, although she is exhausted. Stomachaches are a common complaint among children suffering from this problem, as are bowel problems and headaches” (Ska 1).
Machines scoring tests do not lessen the bias of testing in any way. For the multiple choice problems it is a simple right or wrong; however, computers have been used to score essay portions as well. Criterion is the name of grading software to determine the proficiency of a student’s writing abilities. The University of California was considering using this software to determine if students were eligible to skip a writing course, which the instructor was opposed to. In order to prove his point the instructor, Andy Jones, took a letter of recommendation he had written to score it. Author Alain Jehlen notes, “[He] replaced the student’s name with a few words from a Criterion writing prompt, and substituted ‘chimpanzee’ for every ‘the.’ Criterion loved the result, calling it ‘cogent’ and ‘well-articulated’” (Jehlen 3). If changing a single word and creating a nonsensical paper was scored so well, then one can only imagine what kinds of writing samples this machine was letting through and calling “wonderful.”
Claims have been brought against standardized tests in court due to bias. The legality of a test is based on seven factors: disparate impact (unjustified adverse impact on members of a protected class), validation studies (tests must be validated), state interest, notice and implementation (due process), judicial deference (deferring to a professional educator), remediation and retakes (the amount of remediation offered and the number of retakes), and if the test is homemade. With all these things taken into account there are still several cases where a test was found to be biased and was ruled unreliable by the judicial system.
Debra P. v. Turlington is a case documented where a standardized test was challenged on the basis of racial bias. The SSAT II was claimed to be unconstitutional in the way it was able to deny the students who failed the test high school diplomas. The students in question were provided inadequate notice of the graduation requirements and not given adequate time to prepare themselves for the test. Shelly Mack notes in her research, “The court found that the SSAT II had a clear disproportionate impact on African American students, and noted that Florida intended to discriminate against African American children between 1967-1971 (when the current graduating class was in school under the dual system)” (Mack 2). The state admitted to knowingly discriminating against these children so they would not graduate.
Crump v. Gilmer Independent School District is another case in which graduation was hanging on a single test. Three students had all failed the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills Examination (TAAS). Two of these students had successfully completed all other graduation requirements, while the third student had not. TAAS had only become a graduation requirement in 1991, two years before this case was presented in court, making the argument the students had insufficient time to prepare for the test, as per Debra P. v. Turlington stated that there be at least four to six years of preparation time from its announcement before a new process could be implemented. The two students who had successfully completed all other graduation requirements were granted their diplomas, while the third student was not. It was deemed that the third student’s denial was constitutional because there seemed to be no effort on his part from an academic standpoint.
Despite the biases of standardized testing the question remains of if these tests even show actual learning or learning potential of a student. The answer seems to be a resounding “no” from all sources. The number of guesses that are marked correct do not indicate the student has mastered the skill in question; more often than not they had a one in four chance of being correct. Wrong answers are measured correctly, as the student clearly did not know the material, but the correct answers are not indicative of knowledge. A correct answer can point to two other possibilities than mastery of skill; “A correct answer can be achieved using memorization without any profound understanding of the underlying content or conceptual structure of the problem posed” (“Standardized Test” 2) or simply a blind guess resulting in a positive outcome.
However, there are positive aspects to standardized tests; specifically for young children. The purpose of standardized tests for young children is to identify developmental delays and to evaluate a young child’s development. The standardized tests used for young children are screening tests, diagnostic tests, language tests, and achievement tests. A screening test is used in order to detect an indication of a developmental problem—it identifies if a problem needs to be investigated further. A diagnostic test is done if a child has already been screen tests and indicates further evaluation. Diagnostic tests are designed to assess developmental problems related to learning disabilities. A language test is often administered to students who are considered at-risk. Language tests determine if a student would benefit from a language enrichment program. The achievement test was designed for children in the Head Start program and was introduced by the George W. Bush administration (Wortham, 2008). Overall standardized tests are not solely used to assess young children but is a great way to detect developmental problems in young children.
One proponent of standardized testing is the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This bill supports standards-based education reform, “the belief that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve individual outcomes in education” ("No Child Left Behind Act” 1). NCLB is what set the testing frenzy of the United States in motion. The national government felt it had to step in and take over where state governments had been failing. All the act seemed to do in reality was set up a system of incentives for educators if test results improved. “The system of incentives and penalties sets up a strong motivation for schools, districts, and states to manipulate test results. For example, schools have been shown to employ ‘creative reclassification’ of drop-outs (to reduce unfavorable statistics)” (“No Child Left Behind Act” 3).
NCLB has encouraged the “teach to the test” method more and more schools have put into place, which leads to students not properly interpreting the test materials despite having been trained for them. Teachers are taught to anticipate what will be on the test and teach the students only that material, leading to students having vague, if any, understanding of any other concepts they may need. “Many teachers who practice ‘teaching to the test’ actually misinterpret the educational outcomes the tests are designed to measure. On two state tests (New York State and Michigan) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) almost two-thirds of eighth graders missed math word problems that required an application of the Pythagorean theorem to calculate the distance between two points” (“No Child Left Behind Act” 3).
Standardized testing is a detriment to students, affecting them psychologically, emotionally, and intellectually. Their self-esteem is lowered when they do not receive scores they may be aiming for, or when they do not do as well as their classmates. Students are put under undue stress to outperform, simply because teachers are put under stress to make sure their students do well. Important programs are slowly being taken from schools in order to focus on “teaching to the test.” Students should be learning the social and moral skills that come with being in particular extracurricular groups or elective classes along with their basic subjects, but with classrooms being test oriented some of the most important real world skills are being taken away from them. This sends up a very real red flag for the future about the kinds of people that will be running the United States. They may be goal oriented, but being people oriented is just as important quality to have.Part of the blame falls to the educators, administrators, and states for not speaking out, but most of the blame lies with the government for increasing standards in a way that is unhealthy.
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.
Disadvantages and criticism
The validity, efficacy, and predictive power of standardized tests is disputed. 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. 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.
Supporters of standardized testing respond that these are not reasons to abandon standardized testing in favor of either non-standardized testing or of no assessment at all, but rather criticisms of poorly designed testing regimes. They argue that testing does and should 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.
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 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.”
Another disadvantage to Standardized Tests is the cost. 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.
Some other disadvantages of Standardized Tests are on the students, schools, and teachers. If students do poorly on the tests it reflects poorly on the teachers and schools. It also affects students because it gives them so much anxiety and their worlds are becoming over run by tests. Students now have more and more tests on their plates, whether it is a SAT, ACT, AP test, or a test for science class. While teachers prep the students for these tests they both lose very valuable time to focus on other subjects and new material. Students in Finland take very few tests in their student careers. The only test that Finnish students are required to take is one exam at the end of high school. Kari Louhivuori, a former teacher and a principal, said that testing is nonsense. Kari also said that there is not much more that tests can tell them about the kids than they already know. Finland has better test scores than America; this highlights that fewer tests are better for students.
Scoring information loss
When tests are scored right-wrong, an important assumption has been made about learning. The number of right answers or the sum of item scores (where partial credit is given) is assumed to be the appropriate and sufficient measure of current performance status. In addition, a secondary assumption is made that there is no meaningful information in the wrong answers.
In the first place, a correct answer can be achieved using memorization without any profound understanding of the underlying content or conceptual structure of the problem posed. Second, when more than one step for solution is required, there are often a variety of approaches to answering that will lead to a correct result. The fact that the answer is correct does not indicate which of the several possible procedures were used. When the student supplies the answer (or shows the work) this information is readily available from the original documents.
Second, if the wrong answers were blind guesses, there would be no information to be found among these answers. On the other hand, if wrong answers reflect interpretation departures from the expected one, these answers should show an ordered relationship to whatever the overall test is measuring. This departure should be dependent upon the level of psycholinguistic maturity of the student choosing or giving the answer in the vernacular in which the test is written.
In this second case it should be possible to extract this order from the responses to the test items. Such extraction processes, the Rasch model for instance, are standard practice for item development among professionals. However, because the wrong answers are discarded during the scoring process, attempts to interpret these answers for the information they might contain is seldom undertaken.
Third, although topic-based subtest scores are sometimes provided, the more common practice is to report the total score or a rescaled version of it. This rescaling is intended to compare these scores to a standard of some sort. This further collapse of the test results systematically removes all the information about which particular items were missed.
Thus, scoring a test right–wrong loses 1) how students achieved their correct answers, 2) what led them astray towards unacceptable answers and 3) where within the body of the test this departure from expectation occurred.
This commentary suggests that the current scoring procedure conceals the dynamics of the test-taking process and obscures the capabilities of the students being assessed. Current scoring practice oversimplifies these data in the initial scoring step. The result of this procedural error is to obscure of the diagnostic information that could help teachers serve their students better. It further prevents those who are diligently preparing these tests from being able to observe the information that would otherwise have alerted them to the presence of this error.
A solution to this problem, known as Response Spectrum Evaluation (RSE), is currently being developed that appears to be capable of recovering all three of these forms of information loss, while still providing a numerical scale to establish current performance status and to track performance change.
This RSE approach provides an interpretation of the thinking processes behind every answer (both the right and the wrong ones) that tells teachers how they were thinking for every answer they provide. Among other findings, this chapter reports that the recoverable information explains between two and three times more of the test variability than considering only the right answers. This massive loss of information can be explained by the fact that the "wrong" answers are removed from the test information being collected during the scoring process and is no longer available to reveal the procedural error inherent in right-wrong scoring. The procedure bypasses the limitations produced by the linear dependencies inherent in test data.
Testing bias occurs when a test systematically favors one group over another, even though both groups are equal on the trait the test measures. Critics allege that test makers and facilitators tend to represent a middle class, white background. Critics claim that standardized testing match the values, habits, and language of the test makers. However, being that most tests come from a white, middle-class background, it is important to note that the highest scoring groups are not people of that background, but rather tend to come from Asian populations.
Not all tests are well-written, for example, containing multiple-choice questions with ambiguous answers, or poor coverage of the desired curriculum. Some standardized tests include essay questions, and some have criticized the effectiveness of the grading methods. Recently, partial computerized grading of essays has been introduced for some tests, which is even more controversial.
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
- Learning-Disadvantage Gap
- Norm-referenced test
- Standards-based education reform
- Sylvan Learning glossary, retrieved online, source no longer available
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