Addressing an Educational Performance Concern part 1

The Process of Selecting an Appropriate Standardised Test to Address an Educational Performance Concern

Standardised testing is an integral part of modern day educational practice for teachers and teachers aides and a key component of a successful education system. It is used to assess and assist those present in the education system. Standardised testing can assesses ability and achievement, depending on the type of assessment used. It is a ‘tool that permits someone to make a valid inference about the knowledge and/or skills that a given student possesses in a particular content area. More precisely, that inference is to be norm-referenced so that a student’s relative knowledge and/or skills can be compared with those possessed by a national sample of students of the same age or grade level’ (Family Education, The Problem with Standardised Tests, pg 2).

It allows educators the insight to aid, develop and improve the standard of present day, and future education of those in the system. It identifies educational strengths and weaknesses of individuals and as a result highlights the needs of each person, enabling all pupils to have access to achieving their full educational potential.

History shows that the practice of using tests to identify suitable candidates for a particular task is a practice which has been around for at least four thousand years. Today children learn about how those wishing to join the Fianna had to complete strenuous tests before they were allowed to become members of the group. In this way only the most suitable candidates were selected. History shows us that the Chinese Civil Service used testing to identify suitable job applicants from as far back as 4000 BC. As time progressed batteries of tests were created to measure agriculture, geography and law. In China, from the time of the Ming Dynasty, from 1300 to AD 1650 testing was a common practice. Other countries learnt from these developments and the Greeks, Romans, Turkish and British began implementing similar practices themselves.  As the world advanced so too did testing. In the late 18th century testing had become more and more commonplace in USA and in Europe, in both industry and education for teachers and teachers aides. People wanted a reliable and valid way of making decisions and comparisons between people. From the 19th century on, it became clear that more awareness was needed in relation to scientific testing in education. Researchers from the UK, such as Charles Darwin, from USA, such as James McKeen Catall. From Germany, Wundt, amongst other, and from France, researchers including Binet were investigating the different components of testing. Alfred Binet was to become one of the most influential figures in testing. Most recently he created the Stanford Binet Intelligence Scale (2003). This ability test is currently regarded as one of the greatest ability tests ever created.

In the 1930s and 1940s testing came under criticism and over time as the world evolved and developed, so too did standardised testing in education. All around the world Governments and educators became more aware of the necessity for standardised testing in the classroom. In America a report was drawn up which mandated standardised tests ‘A Nation at Risk, The imperative for Educational Reform ’. In Ireland ‘All primary schools are required by the Department of Education and Skills (Circular 0056/2011) to administer standardised tests’ (NCCA, Standardised Testing).

Standardised testing can provide reliable performance data when used correctly by teaching assistants. ‘A standardised test is a procedure designed to assess the abilities, knowledge, or skills of individuals under clearly specified and controlled conditions relating to (i) construction, (ii) administration; and (iii) scoring, (iv) to provide scores that derive their meaning from an interpretative framework that is provided with the test’ (NCCA, Standardised Testing In Lower Secondary Education, Report 12, pg 22). Testing must meet criteria for it to be classified as ‘standardised’. Standardised testing must meet set criteria for it to be a ‘true snapshot’ of an individuals current ability or progress within a certain area e.g. language or numerical ability. A standardised test can provide reliable performance data as it is relative and contrasts the test taker with the peer group they are being compared against. Educators and integrations aides / teaching assistants must be aware that there is always the potential for scores to move up and down. Tests need be reliable and valid, objective, representative, valid, discriminative and norm/criteria referenced.

Unfortunately factors can influence testing and the validity of the scores obtained. These factors can be either long-term or immediate. Long-term factors may include, motivation, skills such as test taking, personality and inherited characteristics. Whereas immediate factors may include stress, tiredness, the pupil having an ‘off day’, interruptions, teaching to the test and the manner in which the test is administrated. It is important that everything the administrator/educator/teachers aide can do to ensure the test is valid and representative is done. It must also be noted that the scores achieved on a test should be seen as a measure of learning ability or achievement which is modifiable.

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