Types of Standardized Tests

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  • 0:00 Definition of…
  • 1:41 Norm Versus Criterion
  • 2:55 Types of Standardized Tests
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

In this lesson we'll cover the three most common types of standardized tests, as well as what can be inferred from these test results. A short quiz follows the lesson.

Definition of Standardized Tests

There is quite the fuss in modern education around standardized testing. Some, mainly academics, swear by the validity of these tests and their ability to measure student achievement, teacher performance, and school quality. Others, primarily classroom teachers, students, and parents, have grown weary of the monotony of high-stakes tests which seemingly take time away from the more traditional curriculum.

Recent educational trends, spearheaded by No Child Left Behind and further supported in the new Common Core, have seen the importance placed on standardized testing increase. More and more these tests are driving school funding, student placement, and teacher retention. Is standardized testing good for education? That's a question I'll leave up to you to research and answer, but before you do, it's important to understand the different types of standardized tests and how they differ.

First, let's define standardized tests. We can do this by defining each term and then smooshing them back together. A test is, simply put, a measure of performance. There are a number of tests (e.g., taste test, reliability test), but in education we are primarily talking about written tests, which measure a student's performance on a particular skill or subject area. To standardize is to make things the same and equal across as many dimensions as possible. So, when we put them together we get the definition of a standardized test, which is a measure of performance with equivalent questions, taken under similar circumstances, and graded in a uniform manner. Not too complicated, right?

Norm Versus Criterion

No, that's not a nerdy boxing match, but one of the first keys to understanding different types of standardized testing. In the world of educational measures, you'll often hear the terms 'norm-referenced' and 'criterion-referenced' about tests. What these are referring to is the interpretation of the data you retrieve from the test. In other words, when you get scores from a test, what do you compare them to and how can you use that data?

Norm-referencing is when you compare the data to other test-takers. For example, the IQ test is norm-referenced, meaning your score on the IQ test is compared to other people who have taken the test. The only value in the data is by comparison to other test-takers. Conversely, criterion-referencing is when test data is measured against a specific description or rubric. Let's use the example of a standardized math test, each question of which measures a specific skill. When a student takes this test, you can see which questions they got right and wrong and have a good idea of which specific skills they have mastered. If you were wondering, the majority of testing done is norm-referenced, though confusingly some tests can be interpreted in both manners.

Types of Standardized Tests

There are dozens of types of standardized tests. In fact, you can invent your own if you want to! For the purposes of this lesson, we'll cover the three most common types of tests and some of their uses.

Psychological tests are tests that are designed to compare a test-taker's abilities against a standard to aid with diagnosis or in categorization. The aforementioned IQ test is a psychological test, as are many others. Tests in this category can be used to diagnose mild conditions, such as dyslexia or ADHD, or more problematic conditions, like autism or antisocial personality disorder. Psychological tests also include those for giftedness or special abilities.

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