Filled optical form of an examination.

Standardized tests have been around for a long time; they started before the Civil War and went mainstream around 1875. Of course they have evolved over time, but the purpose of the tests hasn’t changed much. 

What Are Standardized Tests?

The most common standardized tests are achievement tests, which measure a student’s skills and proficiency in different subjects. There are two types of achievement tests. One is a criterion-referenced test, which simply measures a student’s knowledge on a given subject and doesn’t compare the results to other students. 

The second type, known as a norm-referenced test, measures a student’s knowledge compared to other students who are the same age and in the same grade across the city, state, or country: “How does my 3rd grader compare to every other 3rd grader in America?” The tests can also determine if the student has the required knowledge to be promoted: “Does my 3rd grader have the necessary skills to be a successful 4th grader?”

There are also standardized aptitude tests, which predict a student’s future potential based on interest and abilities, but aptitude tests are far more rare than achievement tests. 

Standardized tests don’t end after elementary school. To get into college, there are college entrance tests like the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and ACT (American College Test).  After college, if one plans on getting an advanced degree, one may need to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), or Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). 

According to The Glossary of Education Reform, there are two things that make the tests standardized:

  1. They require all test takers to answer the same questions, or a selection of questions, from a common bank of questions, in the same way.
  2. They are scored in a “standard” or consistent manner, which makes it possible to compare the relative performance of individual students or groups of students.

Those familiar with any standardized tests know that the questions are almost exclusively multiple choice or true/false, which can be scored by computer, removing any subjectivity, favoritism, or bias from the scoring process. 

The Tests Your Child May Take

And, yes, students do have to take a number of standardized tests throughout the academic year, but each one measures something different. Here are some of the standardized tests your student may possibly take during the school year: 

  • DIBELS – The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills® test is used to evaluate students’ reading and literacy development and identify students who need additional instructional support. Benchmark tests are periodically given to determine those who need intensive intervention to help them get their reading skills back on track. 
  • AZELLAThe Arizona English Language Learner Assessment (AZELLA) measures students’ English language proficiency. AZELLA is used for both placement and reassessment purposes. Students who have been identified as second language learners on the Home Language Survey take the AZELLA placement test, and the students’ proficiency scores determine appropriate placement for instruction. Students who have been placed into an English language learner program will also take the AZELLA reassessment once per year until they achieve proficiency. Students who have scored proficient on the AZELLA are then monitored for two years to help ensure success after their move into a mainstream classroom.
  • Performance Matters – This test provides assessment and analytics which gauges student performance and identifies risk factors so teachers can address learning problems as early as possible and can differentiate instruction for the maximum benefit of individual students. Educators can also get a complete picture of student performance in the context of the classroom, school, district, or state. 
  • AIMS Science – Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards science test is required for students in grades 5 and 8. AIMS Science is an assessment test that measures student proficiency of the Arizona Academic Content Standard in Science. Students are rated as exceeding, meeting, approaching, or falling far below the standards. Students approaching or falling far below the standards will receive special attention or tutoring to bring their rating up.    
  • AzMERIT/AzM2 – Arizona’s Measurement of Educational Readiness to Inform Teaching was initially designed as a replacement for most AIMS testing. This required test is an annual statewide achievement test for Arizona students. Arizona public school students in Grades 3-8 will take the grade level AzM2 assessments in English language arts (writing and reading) and mathematics. The test is given in the spring. 

Everybody’s a Critic

As with anything, there have always been critics of standardized testing. The main complaint is that they are—as the name says—standardized. Some people point out that, while the tests may be standardized, students are not. Consequently, the questions may be biased for or against specific groups of students. 

To counter that criticism, it’s often pointed out that the variety and large number of questions on any given test, combined with students needing to take several different tests throughout the year, eliminates any type of bias. Most test experts and educators consider standardized tests to be fair and objective. 

Another objection one often hears is that teachers feel compelled to teach to the test rather than follow their pre-planned curriculum. However, Portland’s Concordia University says that many observers found that “teaching informed by the test focuses the curriculum on essential content and skills, eliminates activities that don’t produce learning gains, and motivates teacher and students to exert more effort.” So, even if teachers do teach to the test, it isn’t a bad thing because it results in students spending more time learning.  

How Parents Can Help

A bigger problem with standardized testing is one that parents should be able to easily solve because it’s not an issue with the tests. 

Students, who often feel pressured to do well on standardized tests, become overwhelmed with anxiety, which is unfortunate and unnecessary. There’s an old saying that tests are an opportunity to show how much one knows. That’s important and it’s true. Yet, many times, children are so flummoxed by taking standardized tests, they give the wrong answer to questions that they know because they’re stressed, distracted, or unable to concentrate. 

It’s important that parents put the tests in perspective for students. Standardized achievement tests do exactly what that old saying claims: they give students a chance to show how much they know. Just as importantly, they show what students don’t know. 

If a child finds a certain subject to be too challenging, early intervention by teachers and parents is crucial. Children can easily fall behind and become discouraged with education. More than 2,700 teens drop out of high school every day, many of whom, according to the National Education Association (NEA), could have been helped if learning problems had been identified and addressed in elementary school or even as early as preschool.  

Getting the wrong answers on tests can benefit students and teachers. According to Kids Health, “Tests measure how well students are learning the skills and information their teachers have been teaching them and teachers learn if they need to present information in a way that is better for students to understand.” 

Standardized tests benefit students, teachers, and parents—and kids need to view them as a positive; a chance for them to show-off how smart they are, and a chance to alert teachers and parents that there are some things with which they could use some help. 

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