Achievement test scores are used to make decisions about everything from political policy to an individual student's class schedule. These tests are standardized and normed and given high priority in college placement, teacher pay, district grading and national progress measurements. The validity of achievement tests has been contested for decades.
Achievement tests provide a comprehensive look at the scope of a student's knowledge in multiple subjects, and college admissions offices use scores to compare students and make decisions about qualified admissions candidates. Colleges may look at students' scores on national standardized tests, such as the SAT or ACT, state achievement tests or all of these to gain an understanding of students' capabilities. Many colleges and universities weigh standardized test scores significantly when considering students' applications, and a higher test score may be the deciding factor when selecting one student over another.
Insight Into Instruction
Achievement tests allow educators and decision makers to gain a better understanding of students' grasp of the required curriculum. Scores on these tests allow educators to assess not only students' understanding of the content but also of teaching practices and methods of instruction. For example, low scores may suggest that a teacher or school should reassess the curriculum used or skills emphasized. Additionally, test analysis allows educators to see which skills were mastered and which were not. Whether using a state mandated test or Common Core, test scores provide insight into the effectiveness of instruction.
Variables Affect Performance
Standardized achievement tests may be unfairly normed on students with more cultural advantages, higher incomes and access to more resources. A meta-analysis published in the "Journal of School Leadership" in 2014 found that the most significant predictor of student achievement was the percentage of students on free or reduced lunch, indicating that lower income students performed more poorly on standardized tests. The credentials of teachers did not affect test scores significantly, suggesting that standardized test scores are more a measure of the opportunities available to students than their actual abilities.
Many teachers have experienced the phenomenon of test anxiety. While students are confident and demonstrate understanding of a skill during independent practice, they freeze and perform poorly when they hear the word "test." A study published in "Psychology in Schools" in 2013 found that elementary school students experienced a significantly higher degree of test anxiety when taking a high-stakes achievement test than in routine classroom testing. This anxiety invalidates scores as the scores do not accurately reflect the true abilities of the student. The weight and significance placed on achievement tests affects the degree of anxiety in the students taking them.
- Journal of School Leadership: Equity and Excellence: The Effect of School and Sociodemographic Variables on Student Achievement
- IOX Assessments: Uses and Misuses of Standardized Achievement Tests
- Center for Public Education: Standardized Tests and Their Impact on Schooling: Q&A
- Psychology in Schools: Heightened Test Anxiety Among Young Children: Elementary School Students' Anxious Response to High-Stakes Testing
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