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Social Processes: Methodology · Types of test

A standardized test is a test administered and scored in a standard manner. The tests are designed in such a way that the "questions, conditions for administering, scoring procedures, and interpretations are consistent" (Sylvan Learning, 2006[1]) and are "administered and scored in a predetermined, standard manner" (Popham, 1999[2]).


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The earliest evidence of standardized testing based on merit comes from China during the Han dynasty. The concept of a state ruled by men of ability and virtue was an outgrowth of Confucian philosophy. The imperial examinations covered the so-called Six Arts which included music, archery and horsemanship, arithmetic, writing, and knowledge of the rituals and ceremonies of both public and private parts. Later, the five studies were added to the testing (military strategies, civil law, revenue and taxation, agriculture and geography).[How to reference and link to summary or text]

United States

The first large-scale use of the IQ test in the US was during the World War I (circa 1914-18). The Educational Testing Service (ETS) established in 1948 is the world's largest private educational testing and measurement organization, operating on an annual budget of approximately $900 million.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1994 requires standardized testing in public schools. US Public Law 107-110, known as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 further ties public school funding to standardized testing.

The USA educational system judges the academic qualification of applicants on their test results of standardized tests, standardized college and graduate-school entrance tests:

  • ACT - American College Test
  • DAT - Dental Admission Test
  • GRE - Graduate Record Examination, for graduate school
  • GMAT - Graduate Management Admission Test for business school
  • HSPT - High School Placement Test for entrance into High School
  • IELTS - International English Language Testing System
  • LSAT - Law School Admission Test for law school
  • MAT - Miller Analogies Test
  • MCAT - Medical College Admission Test
  • MOAT - for medical school,
  • PCAT - Pharmacy College Admission Test
  • PSAT/NMSQT - Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test
  • SAT - SAT Reasoning Test, developed in 1926 for college
  • SSAT - Secondary School Admission Test for preparatory school
  • TOEFL - Test of English as a Foreign Language
  • TOEIC - Test of English for International Communication
  • TSE - Test of Spoken English
  • TWE - Test of Written English

Design and scoring

In practice, standardized tests can be composed of multiple-choice and true-false questions. Such items can be tested inexpensively and quickly by scoring special answer sheets by computer or via computer-adaptive testing. Some tests also have short-answer or essay writing components that are assigned a score by independent evaluators. These can be graded by evaluators who use rubrics (rules or guidelines) and anchor papers (examples of papers for each possible score) to determine the grade to be given to a response. A number of assessments, however, are not scored by people. For example, the Graduate Record Exam is a computer-adaptive assessment that requires no scoring by people (except for the writing portion).[3]

Scoring issues

There can be problems with human scoring. For example, the Seattle Times reported that for Washington State's WASL, temporary employees were paid $10 an hour. They spent as little as 20 seconds on each math problem, 2 and 1/2 minutes on an essay on items which may determine if a student graduates from high school, which some believe is a matter of concern given the high stakes nature of such tests. Pearson scores many other state tests similarly.[4] Agreement between scorers can vary between 60 to 85 percent depending on the test and the scoring session. Sometimes states pay to have two or more scorers read each paper to improve reliability, though this does not eliminate test responses getting different scores.[5]

Score reference

There are two types of standardized tests: norm-referenced tests and criterion-referenced tests,[1] resulting in a norm-referenced score or a criterion-referenced score, respectively. Norm-referenced scores compare test-takers to a sample of peers. Criterion-referenced scores compare test-takers to a criterion, and may also be described as standards-based assessment as they are aligned with the standards-based education reform movement.[6] Norm-referenced tests are associated with traditional education, which measures success by rank ordering students, while standards-based assessments are based on the egalitarian belief that all students can succeed if they are assessed against high standards which are required of all students regardless of ability or economic background.[How to reference and link to summary or text]


The considerations of validity and reliability typically are viewed as essential elements for determining the quality of any standardized test. However, professional and practitioner associations frequently have placed these concerns within broader contexts when developing standards and making overall judgments about the quality of any standardized test as a whole within a given context.

Evaluation standards

In the field of evaluation, and in particular educational evaluation, the Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation [7] has published three sets of standards for evaluations. The Personnel Evaluation Standards [8] was published in 1988, The Program Evaluation Standards (2nd edition) [9] was published in 1994, and The Student Evaluation Standards [10] was published in 2003.

Each publication presents and elaborates a set of standards for use in a variety of educational settings. The standards provide guidelines for designing, implementing, assessing and improving the identified form of evaluation. Each of the standards has been placed in one of four fundamental categories to promote educational evaluations that are proper, useful, feasible, and accurate. In these sets of standards, validity and reliability considerations are covered under the accuracy topic. For example, the student accuracy standards help ensure that student evaluations will provide sound, accurate, and credible information about student learning and performance.

Testing standards

In the field of psychometrics, the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing [11] place standards about validity and reliability, along with errors of measurement and related considerations under the general topic of test construction, evaluation and documentation. The second major topic covers standards related to fairness in testing, including fairness in testing and test use, the rights and responsibilities of test takers, testing individuals of diverse linguistic backgrounds, and testing individuals with disabilities. The third and final major topic covers standards related to testing applications, including the responsibilities of test users, psychological testing and assessment, educational testing and assessment, testing in employment and credentialing, plus testing in program evaluation and public policy.


One of the main advantages of standardized testing is that it is able to provide assessments that are psychometrically valid and reliable, as well as results which are generalizable and replicable[12].

Another advantage is aggregation. A well designed standardized test provides an assessment of an individual's mastery of a domain of knowledge or skill which at some level of aggregation will provide useful information. That is, while individual assessments may not be accurate enough for practical purposes, the mean scores of classes, schools, branches of a company, or other groups may well provide useful information because of the reduction of error accomplished by increasing the sample size.

While standardized tests are often criticized as unfair, the psychometric standards applied in the development of standardized tests would produce fairer testing if applied in other types of testing. In particular, the effectiveness of each test item in accomplishing the goal of the test would have to be demonstrated.


Though educators recognize that standardized tests have a place in the arsenal of tools used to assess student achievement, many feel that overuse and misuse of these tests is having serious negative consequences on teaching and learning. According to FairTest,[13] when standardized tests are the primary factor in accountability, the temptation is to use the tests to define curriculum and focus instruction. What is not tested is not taught, and what is taught does not include higher-order learning. How the subject is tested becomes a model for how to teach the subject. At the extreme, school becomes a test prep program – and this extreme already exists. It is of course possible to use a standardized test and not let its limits control curriculum and instruction. However, this can result in a school putting itself at risk for producing lower test scores—under the federal No Child Left Behind law, low test scores mean schools and districts can be labeled “in need of improvement” and punished. It also means parents and the community are not informed systematically about the non-tested areas, unless the school or district makes a great effort. To improve learning and provide meaningful accountability, schools and districts cannot rely solely on standardized tests. The inherent limits of the instruments allow them only to generate information that is inadequate in both breadth and depth. Thus, states, districts and schools must find ways to strengthen classroom assessments and to use the information that comes from these richer measures to inform the public.

Educational decisions

Test scores are increasingly used to make important educational decisions, but they may be limited bases for deciding things like grade promotion, tracking, high school graduation, admission to college or obtaining scholarships. Some argue that important decisions should be based on multiple measures, including classroom grades. Test standards and major research groups such as the National Academy of Sciences clearly state that major educational decisions should not be based solely on a test score. [14] However, the use of each measure that supplements a standardized test should empirically demonstrate validity that increments the validity of using just the test.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Sylvan Learning glossary
  2. Popham, J. (1999). Why standardized tests don’t measure educational quality. Educational Leadership, 56(6), 8-15.
  3. ETS webage about scoring the GRE.
  4. [1] Sunday, August 27, 2000 "Temps spend just minutes to score state test A WASL math problem may take 20 seconds; an essay, 2 1/2 minutes" Jolayne Houtz Seattle Times "In a matter of minutes, a $10-an-hour temp assigns a score to your child's test"
  5. Why the WASL is Awful
  6. Where We Stand: Standards-Based Assessment and Accountability (American Federation of Teachers) [2]
  7. Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation
  8. Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation. (1988). The Personnel Evaluation Standards: How to Assess Systems for Evaluating Educators. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
  9. Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation. (1994). The Program Evaluation Standards, 2nd Edition. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
  10. Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation. (2003). The Student Evaluation Standards: How to Improve Evaluations of Students. Newbury Park, CA: Corwin Press.
  11. The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing
  12. Kuncel, N. R., & Hezlett, S. A. (2007). Standardized tests predict graduate students' success. Science, 315, 1080-81.
  13. FairTest (National Center for Fair & Open Testing)
  14. "High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion,~~~~ and Graduation"

See also

Major topics

Other topics

External links

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