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What Should Parents Know About Standardized Testing In Schools?

February 1994



U.S. Department Of Education, Office of Educational Research And Improvement, Access Eric Pamphlet


What Are Standardized Tests?

Why Do Schools Use Standardized Tests?

How Do Schools Use Standardized Tests?

Can Standardized Tests Alone Determine My Child's Placement In The Classroom?

How Can I Help My Child Do Well On Tests?

What Should I Ask My Child's Teacher? Before The Test . . .

After The Test . . .

What Are My Legal Rights?

Where Can Parents Find Out More About Testing In Schools?


Education and Kids

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Help Your Child Improve In Test-Taking

One tool that schools use to learn about students is the standardized test. This brochure explains basic features of these tests and suggests questions you might ask your child's teacher about testing. Understanding the role of testing will help you to enable your child to succeed in school and to develop a better relationship between your family and your child's school.

What Are Standardized Tests?

Usually created by commercial test publishers, standardized tests are designed to give a common measure of students' performance. Because large numbers of students throughout the country take the same test, they give educators a common yardstick or ``standard'' of measure. Educators use these standardized tests to tell how well school programs are succeeding or to give themselves a picture of the skills and abilities of today's students.

Some popular tests include the California Achievement Tests (the CAT), the Stanford Achievement Test, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (the ITBS), and the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale.

Why Do Schools Use Standardized Tests?

Standardized tests can help teachers and administrators make decisions regarding the instructional program. They help schools measure how students in a given class, school, or school system perform in relation to other students who take the same test. Using the results from these tests, teachers and administrators can evaluate the school system, a school program, or a particular student.

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How Do Schools Use Standardized Tests?

Different types of standardized tests have different purposes. Standardized achievement tests measure how much students have already learned about a school subject. The results from these tests can help teachers develop programs that suit students' achievement levels in each subject area, such as reading, math, language skills, spelling, or science.

Standardized aptitude tests measure students' abilities to learn in school--how well they are likely to do in future school work. Instead of measuring knowledge of subjects taught in school, these tests measure a broad range of abilities or skills that are considered important to success in school. They can measure verbal ability, mechanical ability, creativity, clerical ability, or abstract reasoning. The results from aptitude tests help teachers to plan instruction that is appropriate for the students' levels.

Educators most commonly use achievement and aptitude tests to

  • Evaluate School Programs;

  • Report On Students' Progress;

  • Diagnose Students' Strengths And Weaknesses;

  • Select Students For Special Programs;

  • Place Students In Special Groups; And

  • Certify Student Achievement (For Example, Award High School Diplomas Or Promote Students From Grade To Grade).

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Can Standardized Tests Alone Determine My Child's Placement In The Classroom?

NO. Paper-and-pencil tests give teachers only part of the picture of your child's strengths and weaknesses. Teachers combine the results of many methods to gain insights into the skills, abilities, and knowledge of your child. These methods include

  • Observing Students In The Classroom;

  • Evaluating Their Day-To-Day Classwork;

  • Grading Their Homework Assignments;

  • Meeting With Their Parents; And

  • Keeping Close Track Of How Students Change Or Grow Throughout The Year.

Standardized tests have limitations. These tests are not perfect measures of what individual students can or cannot do or of everything students learn. Also, your child's scores on a particular test may vary from day to day, depending on whether your child guesses, receives clear directions, follows the directions carefully, takes the test seriously, and is comfortable in taking the test.

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How Can I Help My Child Do Well On Tests?

Here are a few suggestions for parents who want to help their children do well on tests.

  • First and most important, talk to your child's teacher often to monitor your child's progress and find out what activities you can do at home to help your child.

  • Make sure your child does his or her homework.

  • Make sure your child is well-rested and eats a well-rounded diet.

  • Have a variety of books and magazines at home to encourage your child's curiosity.

  • Don't be overly anxious about test scores, but encourage your child to take tests seriously.

  • Don't judge your child on the basis of a simple test score.

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What Should I Ask My Child's Teacher? Before The Test . . .

  • Which tests will be administered during the school year and for what purposes?

  • How will the teacher or the school use the results of the test?

  • What other means of evaluation will the teacher or the school use to measure your child's performance?

  • Should your child practice taking tests?

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After The Test . . .

  • How do students in your child's school compare with students in other school systems in your state and across the country?

  • What do the test results mean about your child's skills and abilities?

  • Are the test results consistent with your child's performance in the classroom?

  • Are any changes anticipated in your child's educational program?

  • What can you do at home to help your child strengthen particular skills?

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What Are My Legal Rights?

Several precedents and laws define legal rights related to taking tests in school:

  • Under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, also known as the Buckley Amendment, you have a right to examine your child's academic records. If these records contain test scores, you have a right to see those scores as well.

  • Your child has a right to due process. For example, your child must get adequate notice when a test is required for high school graduation and adequate time to prepare for the test.

  • Your child has a right to fair and equitable treatment. Schools cannot, for example, have different test score requirements based on gender or race.

Schools are not, however, necessarily liable for tests and test results being misused. Your child's best protection against the misuse of testing is for you to be knowledgeable about the appropriate uses of various types of tests. If you suspect your child is being tested inappropriately, or is not being tested when testing would be appropriate, talk with your child's teacher.

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Where Can Parents Find Out More About Testing In Schools?

ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation
209 O'Boyle Hall
The Catholic University of America
Washington, DC 20064
(202) 319-5120

National Center for Fair and Open Testing, Inc. (FairTest)
342 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 864-4810

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Abstracts of the following journal articles and documents are available in the ERIC database. Documents with an ED number can be found on microfiche at more than 900 locations or ordered in paper copy from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service. Call 1 (800) LET-ERIC for more details.

Anastasi, A. (1982). Psychological Testing. New York: Macmillan.

Childs, R. A. (1990). Legal Issues In Testing. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation. ED 320 964.

Herndon, E. B. (October 1980). YOUR CHILD AND TESTING. Pueblo, CO: Consumer Information Center. ED 195 579.

Illinois State Board of Education. Assessment Handbook: A Guide For Assessing Illinois Students. ED 300 414.

Lyman, H. B. (1986). Test Scores And What They Mean. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Michigan State Board of Education (1987). Pencils Down! A Guide For Using And Reporting Test Results (2nd ed.).

National School Public Relations Association (1978). A Parent's Guide To Standardized Aptitude And Achievement Testing. Arlington, VA: NSPRA. ED 169 076.

Rudner, L., J. Conoley, and B. Plake, Eds. (1989). Understanding Achievement Tests: A Guide For School Administrators. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation. ED 314 426.


Written by Carolyn B. Bagin and Lawrence M. Rudner, ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation.

This publication was prepared by ACCESS ERIC in association with the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation, with funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under Contract No. RR92024001. The opinions expressed in this brochure do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education.

Last update 02/01/94


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