The use of standardized test scores
Swafford, Karla Lairsey
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The field of educational tests and measurements is a broad one, complete with a variety of perspectives about how educators should approach assessment of student ability and learning. The standardized testing movement is used by politicians and policymakers to hold schools accountable. Each decade of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century have seemingly brought a different argument as to what the shortcomings of American schools are and what to do to solve that problem. However, there has been one constant denominator: assessing students’ learning through a standardized test. Recently legislation in the United States, including the national No Child Left Behind Act and Georgia’s A+ Reform Act, has begun to dictate that students, teachers, administrators, and schools as a whole be judged on the basis of a single test score. This study uses historical research methods to explore the history of standardized testing in the United States and what lead test developers have held to be the appropriate and inappropriate uses of test scores. Additionally, this study provides background on seven standardized tests and their appropriate uses. The seven assessments include the California Achievement Test, the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, the Metropolitan Achievement Test, the National Assessment for Educational Progress, the Scholastic Aptitude Test, and the Stanford Achievement Test. The study finds that test scores are properly used for determining student achievement and the effectiveness of an educational program as long as the scores are used along with other pieces of information, such as teacher observations and performance assessment data, to make high-stakes decisions about students. To use a single score to make important decisions such as student promotion, retention, and graduation or about the quality of schools is deemed an inappropriate use by testing experts and test publishers. These findings are in direct opposition to the current policy such as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 that requires that schools and students be judged based on one single test score. Such public policy and legislation should be reviewed for their suitability in school reform efforts.