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Some recent standardized tests can incorporate both criterion-referenced and norm referenced elements in to the same test (Linn&Miller, 2005). That is, the test results not only provide information on mastery of a content standard but also the percentage of students who attained that level of mastery.

Standardized tests can be high stakes i.e. performance on the test has important consequences. These consequences can be for students, e.g. passing a high school graduation test is required in order to obtain a diploma or passing PRAXIS II is a prerequisite to gain a teacher license. These consequences can be for schools, e.g. under NCLB an increasing percentage of students in every school must reach proficiency in math and reading each year. Consequences for schools who fail to achieve these gains include reduced funding and restructuring of the school building. Under NCLB, the consequences are designed to be for the schools not individual students (Popham, 2005) and their test results may not accurately reflect what they know because students may not try hard when the tests have low stakes for them (Wise&DeMars, 2005).

Uses of standardized tests

Standardized tests are used for a variety of reasons and the same test is sometimes used for multiple purposes.

Assessing students’ progress in a wider context

Well-designed teacher assessments provide crucial information about each student’s achievement in the classroom. However, teachers vary in the types of assessment they use so teacher assessments do not usually provide information on how students’ achievement compares to externally established criteria. Consider two eighth grade students, Brian and Joshua, who received As in their middle school math classes. However, on the standardized norm referenced math test Brian scored in the fiftieth percentile whereas Joshua scored in the ninetieth percentile. This information is important to Brian and Joshua, their parents, and the school personnel. Likewise, two third grade students could both receive Cs on their report card in reading but one may pass 25 per cent and the other 65 per cent of the items on the Criterion Referenced State Test.

There are many reasons that students’ performance on teacher assessments and standardized assessments may differ. Students may perform lower on the standardized assessment because their teachers have easy grading criteria, or there is poor alignment between the content they were taught and that on the standardized test, or they are unfamiliar with the type of items on the standardized tests, or they have test anxiety, or they were sick on the day of the test. Students may perform higher on the standardized test than on classroom assessments because their teachers have hard grading criteria, or the student does not work consistently in class (e.g. does not turn in homework) but will focus on a standardized test, or the student is adept at the multiple choice items on the standardized tests but not at the variety of constructed response and performance items the teacher uses. We should always be very cautious about drawing inferences from one kind of assessment.

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Source:  OpenStax, Understanding standardised assessment. OpenStax CNX. Apr 06, 2013 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11511/1.6
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