Testing 101: What is a Standardized Test?

A test is a test is a test, right?  Wrong!

There is a lot of talk across the nation about standardized tests.  What does it actually mean if the test is “standardized”?  Standardization is all about comparing apples to apples. Basically, it means that the exact same test is administered to every student who takes it under the exact same conditions…the conditions and the test itself are ‘standardized’.  The purpose of this kind of test is so that later, when the results are available, the results can be used to ‘compare apples to apples’.

Here’s a common misconception about standardized tests:  it is often assumed that the questions on the test–in other words, the content being tested–is based on an agreed upon set of ‘standards’.  Sounds logical, right?  Now, that may or may not be the case, (that the content being tested is based on some set of standards), but in the world of educational assessment, content is not what makes a standardized test, well, standardized.

A standardized test means that every student taking a certain test will have the exact same questions to answer.  The questions may be in a different order, but each student will, by the end of the test, answer the same set of questions as every other student taking that same test.

A standardized test means that every student taking the test will take it under the exact same testing conditions.  A standardized test is administered in a controlled environment.  Simply put, the test is given under similar conditions everywhere, and the conditions are specifically dictated by the creators of the test and enforced by the district (or body) administering the test.  That is often why there is a proctor present.  The purpose of the proctor is to make sure that the testing conditions that were specified are being followed in each and every place the test is being administered.

The good old SAT test is a good example of a standardized test.

So, if a student is taking a standardized test, it does not mean that the content being assessed is based on some set of standards, as the term ‘standardized test’ seems to imply, but rather that the test itself, and the conditions under which the test is given, to the extent that it is humanly possible, are consistent and the same across all test takers.  Hence the term, ‘standardized’.  Just like, thank goodness, all electrical outlets (within the United States, at least) and USB ports are ‘standardized’.

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