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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.

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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.Achievement tests are the classic standardized test one may take in school. Achievement tests measure how well a test-taker knows a subject or measures their skills and abilities in a certain area.

While students may take standardized tests in classes to measure their particular abilities, one test virtually all students must take at one point or another is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP is used to compare student performance nationwide as well as to rate school effectiveness.Aptitude tests are the opposite of an achievement test in that they predict, rather than report, skills and abilities. The most commonly known aptitude test is the SAT, formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

The goal of the SAT is to measure a test-taker’s potential performance in higher education, something it does surprisingly well. Other aptitude tests cover areas such as career selection or dating compatibility.Keep in mind that many tests can be considered to fit in one or more categories. For instance, the SAT can be considered both an aptitude and achievement test, since it demonstrates past learning as well as predicts future performance.

Lesson Summary

This lesson introduced you to some of the basics surrounding the many different types of standardized tests. To break down the term, first remember that a test is a measure of performance, while to standardize is to make things the same and equal across as many dimensions as possible. So, a standardized test is a measure of performance with equivalent questions, taken under similar circumstances, and graded in a uniform manner.

Standardized tests can be either norm-referenced, which is when test data is compared to other test-takers, or criterion-referenced, which compares test data to a specific rubric. Finally, the three major types of standardized tests are psychological, which measures performance compared to diagnostic criteria; achievement, which determines comprehension of skills or knowledge; and aptitude, which forecasts abilities.

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