Teachers must test. It is one method of evaluating progress and determining individual student needs. More than two hundred and fifty million standardized tests are administered each year to forty four million students who attend American elementary and secondary schools (Ysseldyke et al. 1992). Testing is only part of the broader conception of assessment. Testing is the sampling of behavior in students to obtain scores (quantitative indexes) or relative standing. In addition teachers and other school personnel assess or collect data through classroom observations, interviews with students' family members or care-givers. Psychological and psycho-educational tests are used in schools to help to identify types and bases and the extent of a student's learning difficulty or school adjustment problem. The assessment is used to make decisions about students.
At a curricular level, tests help to determine the effectiveness of a particular instructional intervention. Teachers give tests before and after instituting a new teaching method or use of material and they examine the gain in the achievement of the student.Testing can also be used to screen students and identify those with potential problems, or those who may need remediation in areas such as academic achievement, perceptual-motor functioning, learning aptitude. Students can then be placed in appropriate programs or even in a special classroom or school if needed.
In other words, psychological tests are not necessarily to be given to all students, but to those students when the teacher suspects that there may be a difficulty which may impede the progress of the student in the normal classroom.
A variety of types of tests is used in education, including, but not limited to, learning aptitude tests, group or individual achievement test, tests of specific skills thought to be basic to school learning, (e.g. visual-motor integration skills, speech and language tests, vision and hearing tests), personality inventories, behavior observations and projective techniques. Ford-Martin (www.findarticles.com) definespsychological tests as "written, visual or verbal evaluations administered to assess the cognitive and emotional functioning of children and adults." She explains that psychological tests are used to assess a variety of mental abilities and attributes, including achievement and ability, personality and neurological functioning.
However it is very important that teachers and other practitioners who are testing students have a good basic knowledge of not only the test itself, but testing procedure and more importantly how to interpret the tests results. According to Overton (1992) the "use of standardized instruments requires knowledge of test- selection criteria, basic principles of measurement, administration techniques, scoring ability and careful interpretation of test results." Since the student's future is at risk it is extremely important that the testing is carried out by someone properly trained to administer the tests and to interpret the test results.
Many of the instruments used are norm-referenced, i.e the pupil's performance is evaluated in reference to the performance of other pupils of his same age and/or grade level. One way in which meaning is attached to a test score is to indicate how far along the normal development path the individual has progressed. If, for example, we wish to establish the norms of test performance of a population of ten-year-old boys in public school, we might test a carefully selected sample of five hundred boys in public schools in several areas. The sample must be a representative cross section of the population for which the test is designed. Two of the important features of the test are the validity and the reliability of the test. "The validity of the test concerns what the test measures and how well it does so" (Anastasi 1976). The validity of the test is not reported generally as "high" or "low." The validity is determined with reference to the particular use the test is to be put. There are three categories of validity - content validity, criterion-related and construct validity. Content validity involves examination of the test content to make sure that it covers a representative sample of the behavior domain to be measured by the test. Criterion-related validity indicates the effectiveness of a test in predicting an individual's behavior in specified situations. The construct validity is the extent to which the test may be said to measure a theoretical construct or trait, e.g intelligence, anxiety, or verbal fluency. The validity coefficient is a correlation between the test score and criterion measure and is usually determined and reported by the test maker.
The reliability refers to the consistency of scores obtained by the same persons when reexamined with the same test on different occasions, or with different sets of equivalent items, or under variable examining conditions" (Anastasi 1976). The reliability coefficient (r) expresses the relationship between the two sets of scores.
Some tests on the other hand are criterion-referenced. They measure a student's mastery of specific skills. The tests measure the student's performance against his or her own previous performance, rather than against other students.
The different types of tests which are used in education are The achievement and ability tests- a measure of intellectual functioning and cognitive ability. e.g Wechsler Intelligence Test -WISC 111 and Standford-Binet Intelligence Scales. Personality tests and inventories- evaluate the thoughts, emotions, attitudes and behavioral traits that comprise personality, e.g. Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2) And Projective personality assessment- e.g Rorschach Inkblot Test and Thematic Apperception test (TAT).
When using test results to make decisions about students, teachers must be very careful. Psychological tests are only one element of a psycho-educational assessment. They should not be used alone in final planning and implementation of an educational program for the student. Not only is the teacher to be aware of certain issues when interpreting the results, but also he or she must be aware of some of the pitfalls that the students fall into when taking tests. Taylor and Walton (2001) suggest that it is "important that test-taking strategy be part of teachers' daily instruction. For example, teachers could help students to write short responses to questions since these are the kinds of responses usually called for on standardized tests. Or, since most tests are independent, non-collaborative efforts students who are accustomed to doing group work must have opportunities to work alone during the school term. Teachers should also help students to deal with test anxiety by talking with them and teaching them coping strategies such as slow breathing, counting to ten, etc. Exposing students to a variety of presentation formats and terms used, is also important, e.g. use different mathematical terms for the same concept such as subtract, find difference and take away.
Teaching to the tests has become a major concern for parents and teachers. Domenech (2000) says that teachers believe that they spend an inordinate amount of time on drills leading to memorization of facts rather than spending time on problem solving and the development of critical and analytical thinking skills. He also mentions the renewal of school phobia in students as a result of the stress of testing on students. In addition to the problem of teaching to tests, Gardner (www.ericae.net/edo/ED315429.htm) identifiesother common misuses of tests, including ignoring the error of measurement on test scores. He suggests estimating the standard error of measurement and setting up a band within which the true score will fall. He also warns against using a single test score for decision- making.
O'Shea (www.academicstandards.org) reportsthat the results of a study show that teachers need to be trained more to be able to teach with a curriculum aligned to the standards of the tests. He suggests that teachers need "to learn how to evaluate students work samples in relation to the performance outlines included in the standards-based lessons."
Shepard (1994) suggests that testing should only be done when teachers or parents notice that a child is not progressing normally in comparison to age-appropriate expectations. She offers suggestions for teachers-
First the learning environment must be evaluated to ensure that the child's lack of progress is not due to poor instruction. Teacher should try other methods of instruction or even expose the child to a different teacher.
The child must be observed in multiple contexts- outside the classroom with peers, at home. This is particularly important with children from different cultures and language backgrounds.
Basically teachers must have knowledge of normal development, e.g. understanding that with writing a child goes from scribbles to pictures and random letters and then some letter/word correspondences. At the same time the teacher must remember that the continuum is not rigid and allowances must be made for that. The interpretation of the tests may be in the form of a diagnosis of mental retardation, learning disability, emotional disturbance, developmental immaturity, or average or above-average intellectual functioning. The test should also indicate characteristics the student may display such as distractibility, attention deficits, auditory short-term memory, visual retention, and verbal comprehension. Interpretation must also include comparing the student with the age and grade expectations. Is the student significantly above expectations, (e.g. In the 90th percentile); or average (in the 50th percentile) or below average (in the 25th percentile)?…