Achievement Tests




Designed to measure what you already know.


In 1962, the Scholastic Aptitude Test replaced the essay test used by the College Entrance Examination Board.


This test, and the advent of machine scoring led to a rapid increase in the use of standardized achievement tests in the U.S.


Achievement testing serves many purposes :


1.    Assess level of competence


2.    Diagnose strength and weaknesses


3.    Assign Grades


4.    Achieve Certification or Promotion


5.    Advanced Placement/College Credit Exams


6.    Curriculum Evaluation


7.    Accountability


8.    Informational Purposes


Differences in Approaches to Achievement Testing


       The information gained from a standardized test is dependent upon how the testing is incorporated into the learning material.


Summative Evaluation :  Testing is done at the end of the instructional unit.  The test score is seen as the summation of all knowledge learned during a particular subject unit.




Formative Evaluation : Testing occurs constantly with learning so that teachers can evaluate the effectiveness of teaching methods along with the assessment of students' abilities.



Standardized Achievement tests can be :




Criterion Referenced



The National Assessment of Educational Progress


This organization is dedicated to improving the effectiveness of our schools


In order to accomplish this goal, they make objective information concerning scholastic performance available to educators and public policy officials.


They use a criterion-referenced approach to evaluating performance in ten subject areas, which are age stratified in four groups :  at age 9,13,17, and 25-35. 


10 subject areas they develop criterion reference for  



Occupational Development










The criterions they set can be used as guidelines to evaluate the effectiveness of the educational system within a particular area by comparing the performance to the national criterion levels.

Types of Standardized Achievement Tests


4 major Categories


Survey Test Batteries : Commonly used to determine general standing with respect to group performance. He battery is a group of subject area tests, usually containing a fairly limited sample of questions with in each subject area.

       Test batteries usually have lower reliabilities than single subject survey tests bc of the limited question sample of each subject area.


Single Subject Survey Tests : Longer and more detailed than batteries, but only one subject are is covered by the test. Greater sampling of questions means higher levels of reliability than survey batteries.



Diagnostic Tests  :  Allows for the identification of specific strengths and weaknesses within a subject area by subdividing the subject area into the underlying components. Diagnostic tests are common in the areas of reading, mathematics, spelling, and foreign languages are most common.



Prognostic Tests :  Aptitude tests which are designed to predict achievement in specific school subjects.

Criticisms of College Entrance Examinations



1.    Preparation for college entrance exams takes up time previously devoted to learning.


2.    Multiple Choice questions are inherently biased bc they :


A. Favor Shrewd, nimble witted rapid readers.


B. Penalize creative, more profound thinkers


       C. Concerned with only the answer, not how the person came up with the answer.


       (Banesh Hoffman, 1962)


       D. Encourage Improper study habits such as rote memorization



Criticism of Educational Testing Service (ETS)


ETS came under fire in the 1980's by Raplph Nader, a perpetual candidate for the presidency and a consumer advocate.


Nader criticized the SAT's and ACT's for not measuring imagination, idealism, determination, and other abilities which he considered important in quantifying human qualities.


Allan Niarn (1980), a collegue of Nader's claimed that the SAT's measure Social Class, rather than educational aptitude.


Nairn claims the ETS is trying to suppress this information, bc the evil purpose behind the SAT is to maintain the status quo of society and to deny opportunity to those of lower socio economic status.


Nairn claims that since the SAT is a poor p[redicotr of college grades, a different measure of assessment should be developed.


ETS responded to these highly publicized attacks by claiming the SAT does not deny access to higher education for individuals from working class and poor families.




The National Center for Fair and Open Testing



Continued the attacks made by Nairn by claiming the SAT is biased against minority groups and women, and therefore deny them an equal opportunity for higher education.


They also criticized the use of "experimental" sections of the SAT which were not used for grading purposes.



New York State has a "truth in testing" law which requires all test takers be given copies of their own answer sheet, and informed how test scores will be computed. In addition, test developers must file information concerning the validity of the standardized measure with the State commission of Education


The ETS claims that careful internal review of all potential test items has resulted in removing bias within an item which would adversely affect scores of women and/or minorities.




Another concern of Standardized Testing


How much can coaching affect scores ?


If scores are significantly affected by Kaplan seminars or other preparation methods, how reliable are these standardized tests ?


To the degree that people with more disposable resources (higher SES) are more likely to take advantage of these programs, is a class bias being created that affects the interpretation of the test scores ?


       Studies designed to measure the effectiveness of these testing seminars has produced mixed results :

College Entrance Examination Board (1971) : Claimed there was no evidence that  short -term, intensive drilling on SAT type questions did not lead to significantly higher scores on the verbal portion of the SAT.


However, studies done by Stanley Kaplan and the FTC (1979) showed significant gains after a 10 week coaching course.


ETS reanalyzed the FTC data and concluded the coaching sessions could add 20 - 35 points to both Math and verbal scores.



Demographic Differences in SAT scores :


SAT scores increased from 1950's - 1960's


And have been declining ever since.



The SAT scores were renormed in 1996, to bring the mean back to 500 and the standard deviation back to 100.


Declines occurred both sexes, for all ethnic groups, and for both low and high performers.


Numerous Explanations for the drop in Scores :




Less parental attention


Teachers paying less attention to students


Less parental supervision


Less parental concern


Students less motivated


Substance Abuse among students


Increased permissiveness in society

Autin & Garber 1982 analyzed the decline in SAT scores



They found that:


1/2 of the variance in the decline in scores was do to difference's in the overall composition of students taking the exam.


As college became more accessible to students from middle and lower class backgrounds, more and more students began taking the entrance exam.


As the population of students taking the SAT began to more closely resemble the population of all possible students who could take the exam, the scores dropped.


This is one qualification public schools in NYS make when cautioning parents when interpreting standardized test scores by school district.     

If the school district tries to maximize the proportion of students taking these exams, they will take pains to mention that fact when their "report cards" come out.

 A high level of performance at a school where only 20% of students take that exam can not be meaningfully compared to test performance from a school which has 85% of their students take the standardized exam.


Demographic Differences in Scores



Examine Gender, Geography, and Ethnicity



Gender :  Men score 37 points higher than females on SAT-Math section.  Testosterone, hemispheric lateralization, differential reinforcement from math teachers, and differential cultural expectations are four hypothesized differences for this discrepancy.

Men score 7 points higher than women on the SAT verbal section.



Bob Shaffer from Fairtest :  Girls are more inclined to think through a problem, and weigh all the options, and that puts them at a strategic disadvantage in multiple choice tests.


This gender gap means women are less likely to receive scholarships than men.



ETS claims the gender gap represents genuine differences in education.


In college freshman and sophomore years, the women achieve a higher GPA than men, on average.



Ethnicity Differences in SAT scores


SAT scores for Asian-Americans is higher than for Caucasian Americans


SAT scores for all other minority groups fall below the test score levels of Caucasian Americans.


These lower SAT scores are accounted for in large part by :


Lower family income of minorities, compared to Caucasians


Lower Educational level of Parents, compared to Caucasian parents.



Average SAT scores from large cities are typically lower than average.


Average SAT scores from suburban regions are typically higher than average.


To the degree primary education systems suffer from institutional racism as a result of funding policies, the class differences which produce error variation in SAT scores will still persist into the future.






Despite the many criticisms, the SAT is still the single best predictor of who will be seen a s academically successful during the first year of college.


The SAT's will continue to be used extensively in the future.


The differences in education exposed by the SAT (gender, ethnicity, geographic) illustrates areas of improvement which must be made to ensure equal opportunity for higher education for all Americans, not simply those who are well off financially and live in educational districts where high levels of educational attainment is the norm, rather than the exception.


       Both 2000 presidential candidates have stated that education is one of their "top priorities" should they be elected.


Bush is pushing "National Testing" as a way to ensure progress is being made.