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What Parents Should Know About Standardized Testing

Reprinted with permission from Project Appleseed

What Should Parents Know About Standardized Testing in Schools?

 One tool that schools use to learn about students is the standardized test. These tips explain basic features of these tests and suggest questions you might ask your child's teacher about testing. Understanding the role of testing will help you to enable your child to succeed in school and to develop a better relationship between your family and your child's school.

What Are Standardized Tests?
Usually created by commercial test publishers, standardized tests are designed to give a common measure of students' performance. Because large numbers of students throughout the country take the same test, they give educators a common yardstick or ``standard'' of measure. Educators use these standardized tests to tell how well school programs are succeeding or to give themselves a picture of the skills and abilities of today's students.

Some popular tests include the California Achievement Tests (the CAT), the Stanford Achievement Test, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (the ITBS), and the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale.

Why Do Schools Use Standardized Tests?
Standardized tests can help teachers and administrators make decisions regarding the instructional program. They help schools measure how students in a given class, school, or school system perform in relation to other students who take the same test. Using the results from these tests, teachers and administrators can evaluate the school system, a school program, or a particular student.

How Do Schools Use Standardized Tests?
Different types of standardized tests have different purposes. Standardized achievement tests measure how much students have already learned about a school subject. The results from these tests can help teachers develop programs that suit students' achievement levels in each subject area, such as reading, math, language skills, spelling, or science.

Standardized aptitude tests measure students' abilities to learn in school-how well they are likely to do in future school work. Instead of measuring knowledge of subjects taught in school, these tests measure a broad range of abilities or skills that are considered important to success in school. They can measure verbal ability, mechanical ability, creativity, clerical ability, or abstract reasoning. The results from aptitude tests help teachers to plan instruction that is appropriate for the students' levels. Educators most commonly use achievement and aptitude tests to:

  • Evaluate school programs;
  • Report on students' progress;
  • Diagnose students' strengths and weaknesses;
  • Select students for special programs;
  • Place students in special groups; and
  • Certify student achievement (for example, award high school diplomas or promote students from grade to grade).

Can Standardized Tests Alone Determine My Child's Placement in the Classroom?
No. Paper-and-pencil tests give teachers only part of the picture of your child's strengths and weaknesses. Teachers combine the results of many methods to gain insights into the skills, abilities, and knowledge of your child. These methods include:

  • Observing students in the classroom;
  • Evaluating their day-to-day classwork;
  • Grading their homework assignments;
  • Meeting with their parents; and
  • Keeping close track of how students change or grow throughout the year.

Standardized tests have limitations. These tests are not perfect measures of what individual students can or cannot do or of everything students learn. Also, your child's scores on a particular test may vary from day to day, depending on whether your child guesses, receives clear directions, follows the directions carefully, takes the test seriously, and is comfortable in taking the test.