When most of us think of tests, we think of tests in school. When we think of standardized tests, we think SAT, ACT, or similar exams used for admissions. What we are less likely to envision are the thousands of other standardized tests used for thousands of purposes. These tests range from the extremely broad (driver’s license test) to the highly specific: did you know a test is required to become a Certified Photogrammetric Technologist?
Nearly all standardized testing does the same thing: it assesses competency. It allows testers to demonstrate mastery—or the lack thereof. In some cases, the value of standardized testing seems undeniable. We feel more comfortable on airplanes flown by pilots who have passed tests certifying their ability to fly. We feel more confident seeing doctors and nurses who have passed tests certifying their knowledge of medical treatment. We feel safer when our military personnel and police officers have passed tests certifying their ability to safely operate firearms.
The inherent benefit of any type of standardized test is that it is, obviously, standardized. On the exam date, everyone receives the same exam. Everyone’s exam is scored on the same statistically designed scale. The test content is clearly defined according to established standards and extensively tested to eliminate bias (Sackett, 2018).
Standardized tests provide a necessary measure of objectivity. Test takers come in with a wide variety of backgrounds, training, and preparation. In a single day, sometimes in just an hour or two, a standardized test evaluates all test takers on consistent metrics. In nearly any field, standardized testing is the most practical way to remove subjectivity and achieve an objective evaluation.
When we narrow the conversation to standardized tests that are administered to students, whether K-12 or at a higher level, nothing changes. Standardized tests provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate competency and mastery. While the efficacy of specific tests and their utilization can be debated, the value of testing is clear: because educational standards vary across the country (and the world), standardized tests remain among the most efficient and effective tools for measuring student knowledge, ability, and achievement (Hattie, 2008).
Hattie, J. (2008). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses related to achievement. New York: Routledge.
Sackett, P. R., & Kuncel, N. R. (2018). Eight myths about standardized admissions testing. In Measuring Success: Testing, Grades, and the Future of College Admissions (pp. 13-39). Johns Hopkins University Press.