Standardized tests are used frequently in educational settings. This lesson will help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of these tests and also explore factors that impact standardized test performance.
Standardized Tests: Background Information
Student: When did we first start using standardized assessments?
Expert: Standardized assessments are defined as assessments constructed by experts and published for use in many different schools and classrooms. These assessments are used in various contexts and serve multiple purposes.
Americans first began seeing standardized tests in the classroom in the early 20th century. Currently, standardized tests are widely used in grade school and are even required in most states due to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
Student: Most of my test items are multiple-choice. Are all standardized tests multiple-choice?
Expert: Standardized tests may be comprised of different types of items, including multiple-choice, true-false, matching, essay, and spoken items. These assessments may also take the form of traditional paper-pencil tests or be administered via computer. In some instances, adaptive testing occurs when a computer is used. Adaptive testing is when the students' performance on items at the beginning of the test determines the next items to be presented.
Standardized Tests: Advantages
Student: So are all standardized tests good to use?
Expert: Well, actually, there are multiple advantages and disadvantages of these types of tests. Let's talk about the advantages first.
There are many advantages of standardized testing:
- Standardized tests are practical, they're easy to administer, and they consume less time to administer versus other assessments.
- Standardized testing results are quantifiable. By quantifying students' achievements, educators can identify proficiency levels and more easily identify students in need of remediation or advancement.
- Standardized tests are scored via computer, which frees up time for the educator.
- Since scoring is completed by computer, it is objective and not subject to educator bias or emotions.
- Standardized testing allows educators to compare scores to students within the same school and across schools. This information provides data on not only the individual student's abilities but also on the school as a whole. Areas of school-wide weaknesses and strengths are more easily identifiable.
- Standardized testing provides a longitudinal report of student progress. Over time, educators are able to see a trend of growth or decline and rapidly respond to the student's educational needs.
Standardized testing allows educators to determine trends in student progress
Standardized Tests: Disadvantages
Expert: There are disadvantages of standardized testing. Standardized testing is also highly scrutinized. Critics cite the following disadvantages for the use of standardized testing:
- Standardized test items are not parallel with typical classroom skills and behaviors. Due to the fact that questions have to be generalizable to the entire population, most items assess general knowledge and understanding.
- Since general knowledge is assessed, educators cannot use standardized test results to inform their individual instruction methods. If recommendations are made, educators may begin to 'teach to the test' as opposed to teaching what is currently in the curriculum or based on the needs of their individual classroom.
- Standardized test items do not assess higher-level thinking skills.
- Standardized test scores are greatly influenced by non-academic factors, such as fatigue and attention.
Factors that Impact Standardized Testing by Grade
Student: Yeah, I've noticed that if I take a test on a day that I'm really tired, I'll perform lower than usual.
Expert: Yes, there are several factors that will impact standardized test scores.
A big disadvantage to standardized testing are those non-academic factors that impact scores. These include test anxiety, fatigue, lack of attention - and the list goes on. Specific characteristics can be categorized by grade.
In grades kindergarten-2nd, students have a short attention span, and there is a large amount of variability in their attention span. There is very little motivation to do well on standardized tests in this grade range due to students' inability to understand the purpose of the test. Test results are also inconsistent among this grade range.
For grades 3-5, test scores are interpreted as the 'end-all be-all' for evidence of academic ability, which causes a lot of stress and anxiety. Students in this grade still have a wide range of abilities and levels of understanding, which lead to wide variability in scores.
In grades 6-8, there is an increase in test anxiety. Students also tend to become more skeptical about the value of standardized tests in this grade range.
And then, in grades 9-12, there is more skepticism regarding usefulness and validity of standardized tests. There is decreased motivation to perform well on tests, and many students in this grade range have deemed themselves 'poor test-takers' and stop trying.
Expert: There are ways to promote standardized testing in the classroom. Since standardized testing prevails in most classrooms, educators should utilize strategies to keep students motivated and to help them understand the value of the tests.
Educators can remind students of the value of standardized test scores for tracking academic progress over time. Educators can encourage students to do well, but also remind them that their skills and knowledge are assessed through a variety of methods, not just standardized tests. Educators should acknowledge shortfalls of standardized tests but also promote the benefits of this type of assessment as well. Finally, educators should allow students to practice test-taking skills that are needed for standardized testing (such as giving timed assignments) in order to decrease test anxiety.
Expert: Standardized tests are created by experts and used to assess understanding and skills for a variety of purposes. Standardized tests are comprised of different types of items, including multiple-choice and essay questions. Additionally, standardized tests can be administered via computer or traditional paper-pencil methods.
There are many advantages of standardized testing, including the practicality and ease of administration and ability to compare results among a large group of students. Disadvantages also exist, including the fact that standardized test items do not assess higher-level thinking skills and test scores are impacted by non-academic factors such as stress and fatigue.
Educators can use strategies to help students understand the academic importance of standardized tests and also prepare their students in advance to ease test anxiety.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to:
- Identify the importance of standardized tests in schools and classrooms
- Describe the advantages and disadvantages of standardized testing
- Examine the impact standardized tests have on student performance, and what educators can do to ease their anxiety