Standardized assessments have been a longstanding component of the elementary school system, aimed to gauge whether students are learning what they are supposed to learn. Many educators and students are familiar with summative assessments, which are the standardized tests distributed at the end of the year that challenge elementary students to regurgitate everything they have learned for the academic term. However, diagnostic testing -- a type of formative assessment -- has stepped in as a preferred tool adapted by many school systems.

Function

In response to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, many elementary school systems across the country instituted formative testing strategies as a means of improving achievement standards and raising the academic bar. With formative assessments, educators are able to identify when students in a classroom are not at the standard achievement level in a particular subject, such as math or reading. Diagnostic tests are the answer to measuring elementary students' skills and knowledge throughout their academic career so that they do not fall behind without notice.

Implementation

Elementary school systems implement diagnostic testing checkpoints into the academic curriculum throughout the school year. Some schools may conduct the tests quarterly while others conduct it at the halfway mark of the academic calendar. Elementary school subjects that warrant diagnostic testing are math and reading. Some school systems also implement diagnostic tests for writing. Each elementary school must determine its method for testing. For instance, electronic tests are available for schools that want to administer it through computers.

Benchmarking

Benchmarking the data collected from diagnostic tests is an integral part of the formative assessment process. Without minimum achievement standards to meet, educators would not be able to know whether students who have completed the test are meeting the on-track standards, or if they are falling behind. Accordingly, all scores from administered tests must be interpreted and benchmarked against national averages or averages set by the state's education system.

Significance

Educators rely on diagnostic tests to recognize student learning needs, evaluate their skill level and to identify a need for improving the school's curriculum. Diagnostic tests tell teachers if students are placed in appropriate grades based on their academic level, or whether students would benefit from an assisted learning environment. Educators believe that it would be a disservice to a child to keep him placed in a particular classroom if he is struggling academically to meet the grade level standards. In effect, students can receive the attention and assistance they need thanks to diagnostic testing.

Effects

Students can receive a richer academic experience when their educational needs are being met by the schools. Diagnostic tests give educators a way to make changes in the elementary school so that each student is meeting his own learning potential. A specific example includes class reorganization. For instance, if fifth grade students are divided into two math groups, and a student from Group A is at the same academic level as the students in Group B, the school may decide to move the student from Group A to Group B to keep him in an environment that is better aligned with his skill level.