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16.2: Types of standardized tests

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    Achievement tests

    Summarizing the past: K-12 achievement tests are designed to assess what students have learned in a specific content area. These tests include those specifically designed by states to access mastery of state academic content standards (see more details below) as well as general tests such as the California Achievement Tests, The Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills, Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, Metropolitan Achievement Tests, and the Stanford Achievement Tests.

    These general tests are designed to be used across the nation and so will not be as closely aligned with state content standards as specifically designed tests. Some states and Canadian Provinces use specifically designed tests to assess attainment of content standards and a general achievement test to provide normative information.

    Standardized achievement tests are designed to be used for students in kindergarten through high school. For young children questions are presented orally, and students may respond by pointing to pictures, and the subtests are often not timed. For example, on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills designed for students are young as kindergarten the vocabulary test assesses listening vocabulary. The teacher reads a word and may also read a sentence containing the word. Students are then asked to choose one of three pictorial response options.

    Achievement tests are used as one criterion for obtaining a license in a variety of professions including nursing, physical therapy, and social work, accounting, and law. Their use in teacher education is recent and is part of the increased accountability of public education and most States require that teacher education students take achievement tests to obtain a teaching license.

    For those seeking middle school and high school licensure, these are tests are in the content area of the major or minor (e.g. mathematics, social studies); for those seeking licenses in early childhood and elementary the tests focus on knowledge needed to teach students of specific grade levels. The most commonly used tests, the PRAXIS series, tests I and II, developed by Educational Testing Service, include three types of tests (

    • Subject Assessments, these tests on general and subject-specific teaching skills and knowledge. They include both multiple-choice and constructed-response test items.
    • Principles of Learning and Teaching (PLT) Tests assess general pedagogical knowledge at four grade levels: Early Childhood, K-6, 5-9, and 7-12. These tests are based on case studies and include constructed-response and multiple-choice items. Much of the content in this textbook is relevant to the PLT tests.
    • Teaching Foundations Tests assess pedagogy in five areas: multi-subject (elementary), English, Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Science.

    These tests include constructed-response and multiple-choice items which test teacher education students. The scores needed to pass each test vary and are determined by each state.

    Diagnostic tests

    Profiling skills and abilities: Some standardized tests are designed to diagnose strengths and weaknesses in skills, typically reading or mathematics skills. For example, an elementary school child may have difficulty in reading and one or more diagnostic tests would provide detailed information about three components: (1) word recognition, which includes phonological awareness (pronunciation), decoding, and spelling; (2) comprehension which includes vocabulary as well as reading and listening comprehension, and (3) fluency (Joshi 2003).

    Diagnostic tests are often administered individually by school psychologists, following standardized procedures. The examiner typically records not only the results on each question, but also observations of the child’s behavior such as distractibility or frustration. The results from the diagnostic standardized tests are used in conjunction with classroom observations, school and medical records, as well as interviews with teachers, parents and students to produce a profile of the student’s skills and abilities, and where appropriate diagnose a learning disability.

    Aptitude tests

    Predicting the future: Aptitude tests, like achievement tests, measure what students have learned, but rather than focusing on specific subject matter learned in school (e.g. math, science, English or social studies), the test items focus on verbal, quantitative, problem solving abilities that are learned in school or in the general culture (Linn & Miller, 2005).

    These tests are typically shorter than achievement tests and can be useful in predicting general school achievement. If the purpose of using a test is to predict success in a specific subject (e.g. language arts) the best prediction is past achievement in language arts and so scores on a language arts achievement test would be useful.

    However, when the predictions are more general (e.g. success in college) aptitude tests are often used. According to the test developers, both the ACT and SAT Reasoning tests, used to predict success in college, assess general educational development and reasoning, analysis and problem solving as well as questions on mathematics, reading and writing (;

    The SAT Subject Tests that focus on mastery of specific subjects like English, history, mathematics, science, and language are used by some colleges as entrance criteria and are more appropriately classified as achievement tests than aptitude tests even though they are used to predict the future.

    Tests designed to assess general learning ability have traditionally been called Intelligence Tests but are now often called learning ability tests, cognitive ability tests, scholastic aptitude tests, or school ability tests. The shift in terminology reflects the extensive controversy over the meaning of the term intelligence and that its traditional use was associated with inherited capacity (Linn & Miller 2005).

    The more current terms emphasize that tests measure developed ability in learning not innate capacity. The Cognitive Abilities Test assesses K-12 students’ abilities to reason with words, quantitative concepts, and nonverbal (spatial) pictures. The Woodcock Johnson IV contains cognitive abilities tests as well as achievement tests for ages 2 to 90 years.

    High-stakes testing by states

    While many States had standardized testing programs prior to 2000, the number of statewide tests has grown enormously since then because of the former NCLB, and current ESSA, require that all states test students in reading, mathematics annually in grades third through eighth and at least once in high school. Science assessments are given at least once in each grade span from grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12. (CCSSO, 2016).

    Students with disabilities and English language learners must be included in the testing and be provided with appropriate accommodations. States are allowed to administer alternative assessments to no more than 1% of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. (ASCD, 2015). In this section, we focus on these tests and their implications for teachers and students.

    16.2: Types of standardized tests is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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