What is the Purpose of Standardized Testing?

by | Feb 11, 2020 | Educational Resources, Teaching Strategies | 0 comments

In recent years, parents and teachers both agree that standardized testing has gotten out of control. Students are spending a significant number of school days taking district benchmark tests and state-wide standardized tests. Most people agree that this type of testing is overused.

However, standardized testing does have a purpose, and, when used correctly, can be helpful to teachers, students, and parents. So, what exactly is the purpose of standardized testing?

Why We Use Standardized Testing

The first of 3 types of classroom assessments every teacher should use, most teachers call these tests pre-assessments. Although pre- and post-tests can be effective ways to inform your teaching, many educators do not use them. Either they don’t have access to pre-assessments, or perhaps they don’t realize how they could use the tests to tailor their instruction.

Let’s say you need to teach grammar. By giving students a pre-assessment, you could analyze whether or not students already know some concepts and not others. This information could be used to skip unneeded lessons – if they have mastered nouns, use your valuable class time on something they don’t know – or it could be used to differentiate instruction. 

Although pre-tests seem like they take a lot of time, they can save valuable instruction time by showing you which concepts students have already mastered.

A post-assessment is helpful for different reasons. Teachers can analyze the results of the post-assessment to see if any questions had a high number of incorrect responses. If a large group of students missed a specific question about the effects of the Civil War, then the teacher may want to review that topic and consider revising the lesson.

Two Types of Standardized Tests

There are two ways standardized tests can be referenced: norm-referenced or criterion-referenced. Teachers and parents must understand the difference in these tests so that the students’ results are interpreted correctly.

Norm-Referenced Tests

These tests compare a student’s performance to an average (norm) of a small group of previous test-takers. The results show how the student did compared to how students in the norm group did. For example, a student in the 70th percentile in fifth-grade math performed better than 70% of the students who took the test.

Because these tests compare student scores, the scores end up being a curve. The best scores are the top, and the rest of the scores are compared to them. If the best scores only answered 25 out of 50 questions correctly, they would still be the highest scores.

These tests are usually multiple-choice and are designed on national standards instead of local or state standards. A few tests that use norm-referencing are the Terranova, Stanford Achievement Test, and Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

Criterion-Referenced Tests

Criterion-referenced tests measure a student’s mastery of a specific set of criteria or learning standards. Instead of comparing how students did, these tests attempt to measure how well a student knows what he or she was expected to learn.

These tests are scored by how many questions students answered correctly. If seven correct out of ten questions is considered “proficient,” then every student with seven correct will pass. Unlike the norm-referenced tests, all test-takers can pass or fail a criterion-referenced test.

Criterion-referenced tests may use a variety of question types, including multiple-choice and open-ended questions. Advanced Placement tests are a form of criterion-referenced test, as are most tests made to measure the Common Core Standards, such as FSA.


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