The proper use of standardized tests

Once again, standardized tests are in the news (“Standardized tests aren’t the problem, it’s how we use them,” the Brookings Brief, Apr. 1).  This time the argument against them is that they are useless because the pandemic has disrupted the education of students across the country.

Although that’s certainly true, the better argument against them is how they are used.  If they are used to name and shame, then they do little to improve educational quality.  The proper purpose should be strictly as diagnostic tools.  That’s what Finland, whose students consistently shine on tests of international competition, does. 

Unfortunately, to most people all tests are equal. That’s a huge mistake because tests are designed with different purposes in mind.  Great care is necessary in drawing inferences about outcomes. We don’t assume all antibiotics are equal.  Why should tests be different?

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