Are Standarized Tests Effective Assessment Tools?

Standardized tests are exams in which all students answer the same questions. Most standardized tests are created in a multiple choice format and most questions have only one correct answer. There is debate on whether standard tests are effective assessment tools. The debate is ongoing as educational research and practice changes to meet federal legislation.

  1. Teaching the Test

    • Teaching the test means the teacher will instruct students on what they will be tested on. Those in favor of standardized tests argue that teaching to the test improves test-taking skills. Those who oppose them say teaching to the test narrows curriculum and forces the teacher and students to focus on just facts without using critical thinking skills.

      If the test is organized in a multiple choice format, there is no measurement of the student's ability to communicate ideas or to formulate a conclusion following a deductive thought process. This means that the student may know the mechanics of writing but will not learn the writing process.

    A Measuring Tool

    • Standardized testing is used in the public school system to measure teacher performance and student learning, and as a diagnostic tool to determine whether a child is qualified for special education. Administrators use standardized testing to determine the success or failure of a school or a district.

      Opponents to standardized testing argue that one measuring instrument should not determine success or failure. Teacher observation, various evaluations and active participation also should be included with standardized testing for true results of success or failure. A teacher's performance should have more assessment tools to measure her own teaching ability.

    Human Error in Scoring

    • Most standardized tests have a mixed component of paper and pencil and computer-generated exams. In essay and short answer questions, human evaluators score the test. Human error is always a concern in evaluation. Evaluators who were investigated after a standardized test scoring session were found to have a 60 percent to 80 percent disagreement on essay answers to the same writing prompt.

      There are also two interpretations of the scores, a norm-referenced interpretation and a criterion-referenced interpretation. The norm compares the students' scores to peers in the same content. The criterion score compares knowledge of content and is not compared with peers.

    Validity and Reliability

    • Standardized tests can be empirically documented so they do have some degree of reliability and validity. The negative reality of this fact is that oftentimes the levels and scores of the standardized test contrast sharply with teacher's grades and evaluations of the same content. Validity in this argument is diminished because the scores may not be aligned because of school culture, the effectiveness of educational delivery system, or the weighting of grades by the teacher. The tests are considered to be fair and unbiased if all students take the same test in the setting.

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