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Standardized Tests


Elementary schools use standardized tests to assess scholastic achievement, to determine student placement, and to teach specific test-taking skills. Some of the most widely administered tests for elementary school students in the United States include the Stanford Achievement Test, the Metropolitan Achievement Test (MAT), the California Achievement Test (CAT), the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

High school students wishing to continue their education after graduation generally take standardized tests, since most American colleges and universities require test results in applications for admission. The most common of these tests include the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT), taken in preparation for the SAT and used to select National Merit Scholarship winners; the SAT; and the American College Test (ACT), an aptitude test taken in addition to or in place of the SAT. The GRE tests prospective graduate students for general aptitude and knowledge of a specific subject.


In the early 1990s administrators of standardized tests began offering computerized examinations. Computerized tests adapt to the skill level of the individual test-taker. Each correct answer given by a student is followed by a more difficult question, and incorrect answers are followed by less difficult questions. The more difficult the question, the more points the student can score. Besides adjusting questions to a student’s performance level, the computerized test calculates an immediate score and allows students to instantly transmit results to institutions of their choice.


Critics of standardized testing argue that the tests do not account for differences in social and economic backgrounds among test-takers. They also argue that the exams do not accurately assess the scholastic performance of female students. Females consistently earn higher grades on average than males in both high school and college, but their average scores on standardized tests are lower. Some critics claim that the emphasis on high test scores encourages schools to teach only the material likely to be covered in the tests rather than provide a comprehensive education. Supporters of standardized tests maintain that test scores provide a valid measure of academic aptitude. They also contend that the exams offer a reliable way to impartially compare students from a variety of social and educational backgrounds.


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