Why Schools Give Standardized Tests

Taking standardized tests in school. Tetra Images via Getty Images

Parents today frequently hear about standardized tests. Our school-age children take them each year. You have probably received notices from your child's school letting you know that these tests are important along with giving out tips for success on these exams.  

In recent years standardized tests have come under public scrutiny. Critics claim that these tests place unnecessary pressure on students and teachers.

So parents start to wonder -Why do schools give these exams? What is all of the fuss about? What are the schools doing with all of this information?

Standardized Tests Are Used To Measure Student Progress  

Every school district and every state has a set of learning objectives that they hope children learn in each grade level. Standardized tests are meant to show how well your child has learned this material. Teachers know what they are expected to teach, but how they teach is much more individualized. Teachers tailor their teaching to use what they believe will be the best way for their students to learn. Teachers create assignments and lesson plans that are unique to their local area, local cultures and their students.  

Throughout the school year, grades are given by teachers to measure how well the school children understand the teachers' lessons. They are valuable check-points along the way to make sure that children are completing the work and understanding the material.


Standardized tests show how well your child is meeting the learning standards for the state and school district you live in. Most states have adopted the Common Core State Standards. These states use one of the standardized tests developed to measure learning of these standards at each grade level.

All of the children in one state will take the same test. This gives you a score for comparison on how well your child did according to your state standards. Children who live in different cities and attend different schools will have a score that allows each one to compare how well they are doing learning the state's standards.  

Some school districts will look at student standardized tests scores to place students in leveled learning groups the following school year. Parents can also find out how their child did on a standardized test to see if there are any learning gaps that need to be addressed.

To Measure Teacher and School Effectiveness  

Since these tests are written and scored by companies that are not within the school, they provide important data that show how well teachers and schools are doing at effectively teaching their students the required learning standards. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act contain several requirements within it that schools must be able to demonstrate that the children are learning and achieving the learning standards.  This provides a level of accountability that is objective and outside of the school itself.  

If a school has a high percentage of low test scores for several years, then that the school may get extra help in order to help reach students who are falling behind.

 If a school continues to have a large number of low scores, that school may face such accountability measures as having to dismiss it's school administration or have much greater state and federal oversight of its teaching.

To Be Able to Compare Classrooms, Demographic Groups and Different Schools

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act testing requirements also force districts to look at their testing data in a way to make sure that various demographic groups are able to meet the educational standards. This data can be used to see how one school compares to another school. The data can even be pulled apart by school district level staff to see how classes with different teachers compare.

These tests can be used to identify achievement gaps between groups of students who have different socioeconomic backgrounds and those who are of different cultures or ethnicities.  

This is one of many ways educators can identify achievement gaps that need to be addressed.  Although standardized test scores are considered very important in education, they are not without controversy.  Concern has arisen that the results of these tests are given too much weight in some situations, that too much time is being spent on testing, and concern over how valid the tests are at showing student learning.  

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