Chapter 5 - Standardized Tests: Students are meeting the standard of achievement
A standards based educational model took hold in the United States during the Reagan era following the 1983 release of A Nation at Risk. This started wide ranging reforms to ensure that all students were prepared for college and the modern workplace. To this end, a standards based curriculum was enacted with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1994 and reinforced in 2001 with No Child Left Behind’s use of standardized test based accountability. Now all 50 states have standards for learning that are assessed by a state standardized test. Policy makers acknowledge these standards as the central framework that guides state education policy (Darling-Hammond & Wentworth, 2010).
Standardized testing has become a common practice in education and is used to hold schools accountable for teaching students the state defined content standards. Typically, standardized tests are administered annually or at key transitional grade levels depending on the state and subject area. The benefit of standardized testing as opposed to other types of data collection is just that, it is standard across all students tested. A standardized test therefore allows for comparison that would not otherwise be possible. State standardized tests are aligned with the state or nationally defined content standards; therefore, educators can use these tests to get a clear picture of what students know and where the instruction should be focused. In addition to state standardized tests, there are national and international standardized tests used to measure and compare student performance. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas while PISA is the largest international standardized assessment. Both of these assessments are used by the national and international communities to track the progress of students and therefore the overall health and effectiveness of the nation’s education system. Best practices from high performing nations can be used and implemented globally.
Standardized assessments are closely followed by educators, legislators, parents and state and federal accountability staff, as a measure of overall campus and district health. Classroom educators use state test results to drive instruction at the standards level. When aggregated at the campus, district and state levels, the results measure absolute student performance, achievement gaps, and track improvements over time, which tie to both state and federal funding and accountability requirements.
State Standardized Tests
State standardized tests align with the state defined content standards and the results tell educators what students have mastered as well as what standards and curriculum need to be addressed. All states look at results in terms of multiple levels of achievement, most commonly a level indicating whether a student has met the state-defined standard of proficiency and a level of advanced proficiency which in later grades often aligns with college readiness. These levels of achievement indicate a student’s general knowledge of state defined content standards for a particular grade level.
With the advent of NCLB, states must report state standardized assessment results at the campus, district and state levels on an annual basis. Assessments are one of several student outcome measures used to determine whether campuses and districts are meeting accountability standards and making adequate progress as defined by both state and federal mandates.
The results are used not only to ensure that all students are meeting a minimum threshold for success in a given subject and grade, but also to identify differences or achievement gaps between key populations such as economically disadvantaged, ethnicity, English Language Learners, and to track progress over time at the student, campus and district levels. Many states, such as Delaware, are transitioning to using End of Course (EOC) exams at the upper high school levels to assess students’ knowledge of specific subject areas in a more targeted way.
- For additional background information on the Delaware statewide assessment, including the new Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System or DCAS, please refer to the Delaware Department of Education website at www.doe.k12.de.us. Additional information on the statewide assessment requirements for all states is available at www.ed.gov.
- Growth Measures: achievement of an expected level of growth in standardized test performance.
- Advanced Course Potential: students who are not enrolled in advanced courses but have demonstrated potential based on state assessment scores and proficiency on early college entrance exams (PSAT/NMSQT®) in core subject areas.
How to Use the Metric
The State Standardized Test (in Delaware this is the DCAS) Performance metric allows educators to easily review scores, passing rates and trends for a student’s standardized test (DCAS) performance in all tested subjects applicable to the grade level. By reviewing prior DCAS results reported in this metric for current students, teachers can quickly identify which students will require additional support in order to meet standards for the current grade.
Having identified these students, teachers should also review their performance on the reporting categories or objectives in each subject. Teachers may also review DCAS performance and DCAS performance by reporting category for each student in the class and for the class as a whole in a “classroom” view. With a classroom view, teachers and campus leaders can quickly identify all the students within a particular classroom struggling with DCAS and the underlying subjects and categories with which each student and multiple students are struggling. With this information, the teacher is able to group students and plan instruction and academic interventions accordingly.
Teachers should also review how close each student’s score fell to the thresholds or cut scores for the overall benchmark and performance categories (e.g., Well Below Standard, Below Standard, Met Standard, or Advanced). In the case of students close to benchmark, along with those not meeting the benchmark, teachers can introduce academic interventions in the applicable subject areas to enable future success. Conversely, teachers can also provide additional reinforcement and support to students whose scores are Meeting Standard but close to Advanced performance. Teachers can also monitor how well students who are taking alternative tests (such as those receiving special education services) are progressing and their ability to transition into standard test format.
DCAS performance data for the prior year should be reviewed at the beginning of the school year and as often as new issues regarding a student’s classroom performance are brought to light. When new DCAS data become available each testing period, teachers will be able to review the same DCAS performance information for all current students.
National Standards: NAEP
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), first administered in 1969, is administered in all fifty states to representative samples of students at the fourth, eighth, and 12th grade level and measures student achievement and progress over time. The assessment covers the areas of mathematics, reading, writing, and science; and in the future will include world history and foreign language. The data is aggregated and reported at the state level and some select districts. NAEP does not provide scores for individual students or schools. The aggregated data can be viewed annually and is helpful for policymakers, state and local educators, principals, teachers and parents for comparing performance across states and districts and identifying areas of educational administration improvement. Since NAEP assessments are administered uniformly using the same content across the nation, NAEP results serve as a common metric for all states and selected urban districts (scores are not available at the campus and student level). The assessment stays the same from year to year which also provides a measure of student progress over time. For more information on NAEP please visit the Nation’s Report Card site at http://nationsreportcard.gov/.
International Standards: PISA
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an exam given to 15 year-olds across the globe. It is intended to assess the knowledge and skills students have mastered as they approach the end of compulsory education. Much like other standardized tests, PISA provides educators with a standard way to look at student achievement. Additionally as PISA is an international exam, the results are particularly helpful in looking at the strengths and weaknesses of a school, district, or state as compared to the much broader international population. Understanding gaps and best practices of other nations can help guide policy efforts at both the state and national levels.
Darling-Hammond, L., & Wentworth, L. (2010). Benchmark Learning Systems: Student Performance Assessment in International Context. Stanford: SCOPE.