What Does Standardized Testing Mean?

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SAT, ACT, LSAT, PARCC, SBAC, GRE…and the list goes on. If you are the parent of a school-aged child, chances are these acronyms have been a topic of discussion and even a little apprehension.

What is standard testing and what does it measure? Is your child ready for it? If so, how can parents make sure their child excels in these school-facilitated tests?

First, let’s clarify the accurate meaning of “standardized testing.” The Glossary of Education Reform offers the best explanation with this definition: “A standardized test is any form of test that (1) requires all test takers to answer the same questions, or a selection of questions from common bank of questions, in the same way, and that (2) is scored in a ‘standard’ or consistent manner, which makes it possible to compare the relative performance of individual students or groups of students. While different types of tests and assessments may be ‘standardized’ in this way, the term is primarily associated with large-scale tests administered to large populations of students, such as a multiple-choice test given to all the eighth-grade public-school students in a particular state.”

Standardized tests for students of all ages have been a part of American education since the mid-1800s, but their use increased after 2002’s No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated annual testing in all 50 states. Its replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act, allows states to create their own accountability systems. Testing is used for a wide variety of educational purposes, including determining a child’s readiness for kindergarten and to identifying candidates for awards or education certificates. Standardized testing has also been used to identify students who may need specialized academic support and special-education services or as a tool in placing students in different academic programs or course levels that are applicable to their learning levels.

The process of requiring standardized testing has been subject to debate from parents and students alike since its inception. Parents of school-aged kids agree there are pros and cons to subjecting their young learners to the sometimes-rigorous testing, while many test experts and educators consider them to be a fair and objective method of assessing the academic achievement of students. Experts feel that the advantages of the standardized format include the fact that computerized scoring reduces the potential for favoritism, bias or subjective evaluations and those advantages far outweigh the negatives.

Educators assert that standardized testing assists schools and teachers in reforming and improving student achievement; it acts as a means of holding them accountable for educational results and student performance. Standardized testing also gives teachers guidance in helping to determine what to teach students and when to teach it. However, if teachers are under pressure to achieve specific results-based goals, they may teach only to the test, which may result in lack of creativity and boredom for students.

Students don’t often share the enthusiasm of testing the way educators and experts may. The reason: standardized tests are hard, mainly because it’s often difficult to know how to study for these types of tests. During a math or science class test, students always know exactly what will be on the test, but that isn’t the case with standardized tests. The purpose of standardized testing is to assess reading and problem-solving skills, which is harder to predict or prepare for.

Another down side of standardized testing is that it evaluates a student’s performance on one particular day and it does not take into account external factors. Many students do well in the classroom but freeze under the pressure of timed tests and simply do not perform well. Many of these students understand the content, but test-induced anxieties overshadow their testing performance. Parents will also agree that, depending on the day, their children function at different levels. Mondays tend to be harder for a student to focus thanks to a weekend of fun and irregular schedules. By Friday, typically their offspring are “over it” and lack the focus or motivation as well. Other external factors come into play as well, since no two students are alike. One child may be able to bounce back from an argument with Mom or Dad the morning of a test while another struggles to get past it.

When test days loom, parents can help their learners prepare by practicing sitting and focusing on specific tasks for a length of time or even sharing their worries and concerns. Encouraging kids to exercise is also a great way to relieve stress and help their brain remember things. Getting a good night’s sleep the day before, not letting distractions or anxiety derail their efforts and simply doing their absolute best are all ways to effectively navigate standardized testing days.
The reality is that standardized testing is here to stay. Parental involvement, attention to the student’s curriculum, and communication with teachers is, in the long run, the key to ensuring that the student receives the best education possible in preparation for standardized testing. ■

Sources: edglossary.org, ed.gov, teaching.about.com and worklife.columbia.edu.