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State Standardized Test Scores: Issues to Consider

State tests hold schools accountable for results, but they don't tell the whole story about a school.

By GreatSchools Staff

How Important Are Test Scores?

Test scores give you an indication of how students are performing at a particular school. But they don't tell the whole story. The test scores you see on, as reported by the state Department of Education, compare groups of students from one year to the next but they don't tell you about individual student progress. They don't tell you about the richness of the curriculum - whether there is art or music, or opportunities for individual or group exploration into a particular subject. They don't tell you whether students are learning critical thinking skills or how engaged students are in the learning process. These are all important factors to consider when evaluating the effectiveness of your school, or when you are searching for a new school for your child.

Why Is There So Much Emphasis on State Tests?

Since the passage of the federal No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, every state has put in place testing and standards in core subjects to comply with the law. Schools are required to test students annually in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and at least once in grades 10 through 12. Students must also be tested in science in at least one grade in elementary, middle and high school.

Each state chooses its own test and standards of proficiency. Schools that don't show that students are making "adequate yearly progress" toward achieving proficiency are subject to federal sanctions, including loss of federal funds, providing free tutoring, allowing students to transfer to another school, and if all else fails, a complete restructuring of the school.

How High Should the Standards Be?

As of 2007, all 50 states had adopted content standards in the core subjects. But state and education leaders continue to grapple with the question of how high the standards should be. Each state provides its own answer to this question. The leaders face the challenge of "raising the bar" and holding high expectations for students while keeping the standards realistic so that the majority of students can achieve them.

How Can You Compare Test Results From One State to Another?

When considering state standardized tests results, it's important to know where your state stands, relative to other states, in terms of its expectations for students. But you can't compare one state's scores directly with another state because each state uses its own test.

You can compare states on a national basis by looking at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores. Every state is required to give the NAEP test to a sample of students in fourth and eighth grade in reading and in mathematics. By comparing the percentage of students achieving proficiency on state tests with the percentage achieving proficiency on the NAEP, you can get an idea how demanding each state's standards are.

How Do the Tests Influence What Happens in the Classroom?

Proponents of state standardized tests believe these tests drive schools to focus on getting all students to meet basic proficiency levels and achieve basic skills. The tests provide a measure of accountability for what goes on in the classroom.

Critics of the tests are concerned that the pressure to raise scores encourages cheating and "teaching to the test." Subjects such as art and music, which are not currently tested in most states, get less emphasis, and students may miss being exposed to a rich academic environment.

Comments from readers

"Well I think students should be taking this test all around the world. For one, you wouldn’t want someone who has a 5th education to be preforming surgery on you or your child right? I personally would be comfortable with that. So this test determines rather a person is qualified to do certain jobs. "
"Why on earth do we have this test it is not fair to the kids that do everything that they are asked and make good grades we need to eliminate this test"
"I would like to know how can a child get all a's&b's on tests and get a b on the final exam,and all of sudden don't pass the earth science sol have to attend sol academy for a week, that makes no sense to me and I don't think that's fair to the child,the state really needs to come up with a different method of testing these kids,because right now I find it ridiculous then to tell the kids and their parents after the school year ends is quite inconsiderate of any plans the family may have.and yes I would like a response asap, this is very upsetting to me. "
"There is so emphasis placed on these tests that the children believe once the tests are done, they passed or failed the grade. My child, gets so sick on these days, that he can barely finish the tests. Clear point in case was last year, he blanked out during the math test. When he was told that he had 5 minutes left, he hurried up and guessed on all the questions. He passed because he had a high 4 on reading. What did he get on math? He received a high 2. He guessed on all the answers. What does this tell me? One must be a good 'guesser' to pass grades."
"Please let me know what NJ State tests are required for the first grader and kindergarten. Is there a web site in which I can monitor the State test results in addition to requesting it from the teachers? Thanks. Jennifer"
"My son consistently performs well below average in most areas of the ERB test; however, he is a solid B+ student at a great private school. I'm afraid this will impact his ability to attend a great college---although he is just in the 8th grade. What resources are available to parents to prepare for upcoming similar standardized tests? "
"Thanks for the information, it's difficult to find the results elsewhere. I enjoy your web site & have introduced many parents to it. Thank you for keeping us informed."