Few topics ignite passionate debate among educators like standardized testing. With increasing pressure on districts to demonstrate equity in educational opportunities to parents, students, and outside stakeholders, understanding how to best implement and analyze standardized testing is an ongoing challenge.

While some argue that standardized testing exposes demographic inequity, provides an unfair advantage to the wealthy, and is less favorable than looking at students holistically, it nonetheless offers significant advantages:

  • Identifying at-risk students early on
  • Providing evidence to adapt curriculum and instruction based on performance, not circumstance

When schools supplement high-stakes standardized tests with a tool like Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT), they gain data that shows academic performance independent of grade level. CAT administers test questions of varying difficulty to test takers in real-time, making the data highly focused on individual student performance independent of grade level. This ongoing periodic assessment can help schools identify and address achievement gaps before the state test.

However, collecting the data is only half the battle. A study conducted by the Education Week Research Center shows that 64% of administrators lack confidence in their ability to use testing data to quickly make actionable decisions on student achievement. Since the educational climate under the Every Student Succeeds Act encourages making evidence-based curricular and instructional decisions, improving analysis methods is critical for helping all students succeed.

Analysis identifies deficiencies, shows areas of excellence, and drives instructional decisions. Experts have identified benchmarks for measurement educators can use to drill down to students who are most at-risk and determine the types of interventions needed to help them succeed. Standardized test scores form a portion of the necessary evidence to support these interventions.

While standardized test scores are indeed not the whole picture, when used effectively—that is, in concert with other assessments and data—they are a necessary element to a holistic approach that drives educational equity.