ERIC Identifier: ED314427
Publication Date: 1989-12-00
Author: Mehrens, William A.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Tests Measurement and Evaluation Washington DC., American Institutes for
Research Washington DC.
Preparing Students To Take Standardized Achievement Tests. ERIC
As a school administrator, you know that the public often favors
accountability in education and believes that holding teachers responsible for
students' achievement will result in better education. Many people assume that
the best data about students' levels of achievement come from standardized
achievement tests. Although scores from these tests are undoubtedly useful for
accountability purposes, educators recognize that such data have some
TEACHING TO THE TEST
One major concern about standardized
achievement tests is that when test scores are used to make important decisions,
teachers may teach to the test too directly. Although teaching to the test is
not a new concern, today's greater emphasis on teacher accountability can make
this practice more likely to occur.
Depending on how it is done, teaching to the test can be either productive or
counterproductive. Therefore, you need to carefully consider how you prepare
students to take standardized achievement tests.
At some point, legitimate teaching to the test can cross an ill-defined line
and become inappropriate teaching of the test (Shepard and Kreitzer, 1987).
Educators may disagree about what specific activities are inappropriate.
However, it may be useful to describe a continuum and to identify several points
located along it.
SEVEN POINTS ON THE CONTINUUM
Mehrens and Kaminski (1989)
suggest the following descriptive points:
1. giving general instruction on district objectives without referring to the
objectives that the standardized tests measure;
2. teaching test-taking skills;
3. providing instruction on objectives where objectives may have been
determined by looking at the objectives that a variety of standardized tests
measure (The objectives taught may or may not contain objectives on teaching
4. providing instruction based on objectives (skills and subskills) that
specifically match those on the standardized test to be administered;
5. providing instruction on specifically matched objectives (skills and
subskills) where the practice or instruction follows the same format as the test
6. providing practice or instruction on a published parallel form of the same
7. providing practice or instruction on the test itself.
Mehrens and Kaminski suggest that:
Point 1 is always ethical and Points 6 and 7 are never ethical.
Point 2 is typically considered ethical.
Thus, the point at which you cross over from a legitimate to an illegitimate
practice on the continuum is somewhere between Points 3 and 5. The location of
the point changes depending on the inferences you want to make from the test
WHAT YOU CAN INFER FROM TEST SCORES
"The only reasonable,
direct inference you can make from a test score is the degree to which a student
knows the content that the test samples. Any inference about why the student
knows that content to that degree...is clearly a weaker inference..." (Mehrens,
1984, p. 10).
Teaching to the test alters what you can interpret from test scores because
it involves teaching specific content. Therefore, it also weakens the direct
inference that can be reasonably drawn about students' knowledge. Rarely would
you want to limit your inference about knowledge to the specific questions asked
in a specific format. Generally, you want to make inferences about a broader
domain of skills.
Further complicating matters, many people wish to use test scores to draw
indirect inferences about why students score the way they do. Indirect
inferences can lead to weaker and possibly incorrect interpretations about
Indirect inferences cannot possibly be accurate unless the direct inference
of student achievement is made to the correct domain. Rarely does one wish to
limit the inference about knowledge to the specific questions in a test or even
the specific objectives tested. For example, if parents want to infer how well
their children will do in another school next year, they need to make inferences
about the broader domain and not about the specific objectives that are tested
on a particular standardized test. For that inference to be accurate, the
instruction must not be limited to the narrow set of objectives of a given test.
Thus, for the most typical inferences, the line demarking legitimate and
illegitimate teaching of the test must be drawn between Points 3 and 4.
While in my view it is inappropriate to prepare students by focusing on the
sample of objectives that happen to be tested, you can undertake appropriate
activities to prepare students to take standardized tests.
APPROPRIATE ACTIVITIES TO PREPARE STUDENTS
Ligon and Jones
suggest that an appropriate activity for preparing students for standardized
"one which contributes to students' performing on the test near their true
achievement levels, and one which contributes more to their scores than would an
equal amount of regular classroom instruction" (1982, p. 1).
Matter suggests that:
"Ideally, test preparation activities should not be additional activities
imposed upon teachers. Rather, they should be incorporated into the regular,
ongoing instructional activities whenever possible." (1986, p. 10)
If you follow the suggestion by Ligon and Jones, you might spend some time
teaching students general test-taking skills. These skills would help students
answer questions correctly if they have mastered the objectives. Without some
level of test-taking skills, even knowledgeable students could miss an item (or
a set of items) because they did not understand the mechanics of taking a test.
Although the temptation exists to teach too closely
to the test, teachers should not be pressured to do so. In fact, you should try
to ensure that they do not do so.
The inferences you typically wish to draw from test scores are general in
nature and will be inaccurate if you limit instruction to the actual objectives
sampled in the test or, worse yet, to the actual questions on the test. However,
it is appropriate to spend some instructional time teaching test-taking skills.
Such skills are relatively easy to teach and should take up very little
Ligon, G. D. and Jones, P. (April l, 1982).
Preparing Students for Standardized Testing: One District's Perspective. Paper
presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research
Association, New York.
Matter, M. K. (1986). "Legitimate Ways to Prepare Students for Testing: Being
Up Front to Protect Your Behind." In J. Hall and F. Wolmut (eds.). National
Association of Test Directors 1986 Symposia. (pp. 10-11). Oklahoma City, OK:
Oklahoma City Public Schools.
Mehrens, W. A. (1984). "National Tests and Local Curriculum: Match or
Mismatch?" Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 3, (3), 9-15.
Mehrens, W. A. and Kaminski, J. (1989). "Methods for Improving Standardized
Test Scores: Fruitful, Fruitless or Fraudulent?" Educational Measurement: Issues
and Practices, 8 (1), 14-22.
Shepard, L. A. and Kreitzer, A. E. (1987). "The Texas Teacher Test."
Educational Researcher, 16(6), pp. 22-31.