ERIC Identifier: ED315434
Publication Date: 1989-02-00
Author: Bagin, Carolyn Boccella
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Tests Measurement and Evaluation Washington DC., American Institutes for Research Washington DC.

Talking to Your Child's Teacher about Standardized Tests. ERIC Digest No. 106.

Teachers learn about students by using a variety of methods. They assess students by observing them in the classroom, evaluating their day-to-day classwork, grading their homework assignments, meeting with their parents, keeping close records of how they change or grow throughout the year, and administering tests.

Tests give teachers only part of the picture of your child's strengths and weaknesses. Teachers combine the results of many methods to gain well-rounded insights into the skills, abilities, and knowledge of your child.

This digest highlights one tool that teachers use--standardized tests. It explains basic features of testing and suggests questions that you might ask your child's teacher. By understanding the role of testing, you can help your child succeed in school and can develop a better relationship among you, your child, and your child's school.


Standardized tests are designed to give a common measure of students' performance. Since the same test is given to large numbers of students throughout the country, a common yardstick or "standard" of measure can be derived to tell evaluators whether school programs are succeeding or to give them a picture of the skills and abilities of today's students.

Standardized tests are objective tests that are usually created by commercial test publishers. Some names of standardized tests that you may be familiar with include the California Achievement Tests (the CAT), the Stanford Achievement Test (the SAT), the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (the ITBS), or the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, to name a few popular tests.


Standardized tests can help teachers and administrators make decisions. They help schools to measure how students in a given class, school, or school system perform in relation to other students who take the same test. Using the results from these tests, teachers and administrators can evaluate the school system, a school program, or a particular student.

Schools do not use standardized tests to label students as incapable of learning, to place students in a grade or class, to give report card grades, or to evaluate teachers.


Different types of standardized tests have different purposes. Standardized achievement tests measure how much students have already learned about a school subject. The results from these tests can help teachers develop programs that suit students' achievement levels in each subject area, such as reading, math, language skills, spelling, or science.

Standardized aptitude tests measure students' abilities to learn in school -- how well students are likely to do in future school work. They do not measure subjects taught in school, but rather they measure a broad range of abilities or skills that are considered important to succeed in school. The results from aptitude tests help teachers to plan instruction that is neither too hard nor too easy for students. These tests can measure verbal ability, mechanical ability, creativity, clerical ability, or abstract reasoning.

Remember that standardized tests have limitations. They are not the perfect measure of what individual students can or cannot do. Paper tests cannot measure everything that students learn. Also, your child's scores on a particular test can vary from day to day and many factors can affect a particular score -- whether your child guesses, receives clear direction, follows the directions carefully, is comfortable, and so forth.


Here are a few tips to remember.

Don't be overly anxious about test scores, but encourage your child to take the test seriously.

Don't judge your child on the basis of a test score.

Talk to your child's teacher often to monitor your child's progress.

Ask your child's teacher to suggest regular activities that you could do to help your child.

Make sure your child does his or her homework.

Make sure your child is well rested and eats a well-rounded diet.

Have a variety of books and magazines at home to encourage your child's curiosity.


Before the test...

Which tests will be administered during the school year and for what purposes?

How will the teacher or the school use the results of the test?

What other means of evaluation will the teacher or the school use to measure your child's performance?

Should your child practice taking tests?

After the test...

How do students in your child's school compare with students in other school systems? across the country?

What do the test results mean about your child's skills and abilities?

Are the test results consistent with your child's performance in the classroom?

Are any changes anticipated in your child's educational program?

Are there things that you can do at home to help your child strengthen particular skills?


This digest highlights some important points about testing; it doesn't tell you all there is to know about standardized tests and test results. For more detailed information about testing, you may want to contact these organizations:

American Federation of Teachers

555 New Jersey Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20011


%ERIC Clearinghouse for Tests,

Measurement, and Evaluation

American Institutes for Research

3333 K Street, NW

Washington, DC 20007


%National Education Association

1201 16th Street, NW

Washington, DC 20036


%National Congress of Parents and Teachers

700 North Rush Street

Chicago, Illinois 60611


Anastasi, Anne. Psychological Testing. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1982.

Herndon, Enid B. Your Child and Testing. Pueblo: Colorado: Consumer Information Center, October 1980.

Illinois State Board of Education. Assessment Handbook: A Guide for Assessing Illinois Students. 1988.

National School Public Relations Association. A Parent's Guide to Standardized Aptitude and Achievement Testing. Arlington,Virginia: NSPRA, 1978.

Weinstein, Claire E. et al. How to Help Your Children Achieve in School. Washington, DC: The National Institute of Education, March 1983.

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