The Student Achievement Tests that Matter Today

Once, the ACT and SAT were big factors in determining whether or not you’d get into the school of your choice, but today schools are moving away from these tests, in large part because research has shown that they aren’t reliable indicators of how successful students will be in college. That doesn’t mean that student achievement tests have totally gone by the wayside, however. There are still a number of tests that matter in a big way at nearly every level of education, as well as innovative new models of assessment that are changing the way we think about standardized tests. Here, we’ve collected a few of both, showcasing the tests that students need to pay attention to today, as well as developments they can expect in the future.

K-12

Students in K-12 classes are taking these tests that may play a role in their own achievement and public education policy.

Common Core State Testing: If you thought standardized tests were a huge part of schooling before Common Core, things are about to expand much further. The new Common Core State Standards call for testing students not only in math and reading but also in subjects like foreign language, economics, the arts, and physical education. That’s a whole lot of testing and it’s predicted that it will span the entire K-12 experience. The results of these tests will play a big role in teacher evaluation, education policy, and even funding, so they’re not to be dismissed lightly.

TerraNova: TerraNova is a series of student achievement tests produced by McGraw-Hill that are designed to be given to students in K-12 to assess their understanding of reading, language arts, math, science, social studies, vocabulary, spelling, and other areas. The tests are used by the Department of Defense, the state of California, and several other states throughout the U.S.

International Baccalaureate Exam: While much more important in Europe and other places around the world, the IB exam can still play a big role for students in IB schools in the U.S. The exam not only marks the culmination of IB education; it can also take the place of the SAT and even give students college credit in languages and other subjects.

Stanford Achievement Test: Often called the SAT 10, this test produced by educational publisher Pearson is used both here and abroad for assessing skills in reading comprehension, mathematics, problem solving, language, spelling, listening comprehension, science, and social science. While incredibly comprehensive, it is becoming less common as states develop their own standardized tests under the mandate of the No Child Left Behind Act. A similar test, designed for use in urban areas, is the Metropolitan Test.

STAR Tests: STAR tests were created by Renaissance Learning for use in K-12 education. The tests are somewhat unique in that they are completed over the computer and use adaptive technology. Educators can use the tests to evaluate students in reading, early literacy, or math. They can often be an important tool in preparing students for state and high-stakes tests, and are often used to monitor student progress rather than to determine state or local education policy.

PARCC and SBAC Tests: PARCC (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) and SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) are two groups looking to change the face of standardized testing in the U.S. These new tests will be given on the computer and may rely on computer skills to answer questions (students must drag items or highlight phrases). Another change is that some questions require research, writing, and problem solving, though the tests haven’t been able to totally get away from multiple choice questions.

New York Performance Standards Consortium Test: The New York Performance Standards Consortium, an alliance of 28 public high schools, is using a different kind of test to evaluate students. Students at these schools take performance-based assessments instead of standardized tests in all areas except for language arts. This small change, asking students to write essays and research papers, do science experiments, and create applied math problems rather than answer multiple choice questions, is having a big impact. The schools in the program have cut dropout rates in half, and the number of students who head to college after graduation has skyrocketed.

Learning Record and Work Sampling System: Two other kinds of innovative student assessments that are gaining ground are Learning Record and Work Sampling System, both of which draw on a student’s work in class to measure progress, rather than on a specific test. Teachers attach scores to things like writing samples or science experiments, allowing them to get a better sense of a student’s progress over time, rather than in a single instance.

Post-Secondary

Even if your school of choice doesn’t place high value on the SAT or ACT, you may still find these tests critical to your journey into higher education and your career.

AP Exams: There are currently 34 different AP courses that students can enroll in, offering access to college-level study in everything from calculus to art history. Students who opt to take AP courses and the subsequent exams can earn college credit at a much lower price, and potentially even graduate earlier, so the tests can be a big deal to those who take them.

SAT Subject Tests: The SAT may not be necessary to score you a spot at some colleges, but the subject tests offered by the College Board can still play a big role in determining your college career. These tests allow students to showcase their achievement in specific subject areas, like English, history, mathematics, and science. While not required, they can often help students demonstrate their ability to excel in a given topic, even if they struggle in other parts of the general test.

WorkKeys: For students who don’t plan to go on to college, there are still standardized tests that matter. One of these is WorkKeys. This test, created by the ACT people, is used by high schools (and colleges, too) to measure the workplace skills of students. The test can help students find a career that is a good match for them or get help in discerning which skills they can work on to help them get ahead in a field of their choice.

Graduate

Planning to head to graduate or professional school? These tests can play a big role in your admissions.

GRE: The Graduate Record Examination, more commonly called the GRE, is a required examination for admission to most graduate schools in the U.S. The test evaluates a student’s knowledge of verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking skills. The test just underwent a major overhaul in 2011, reevaluating the adaptive nature of the problems offered to students. How much of a role the GRE plays in acceptance to grad school varies, but at many it can be an important factor in selection.

LSAT: Students looking to get into any law school in the U.S. will first need to take the LSAT (the Law School Admission Test). The test evaluates students on their reading comprehension as well as their logic and reasoning. The test is a critical part of the law school admissions process, especially here in the U.S., but is also used in Canada and for some schools in Australia.

MCAT: For aspiring doctors, the MCAT is still a very important test when applying to medical school. The computer-based examination helps test the ability of students to think critically and solve problems as well as assessing their scientific knowledge and writing ability. Specialized professions in health care may require other tests like the DAT (Dental Admission Test), the PCAT (Pharmacy College Admission Test), and the OAT (Optometry Admission Test).

VCAT: If it’s your dream to work with animals, not people, in a medical setting, then you’ll need to take the Veterinary College Admission Test. This assessment uses questions that evaluate a student’s knowledge of biology and chemistry as well as reading comprehension, quantitative reasoning, and verbal skills.

Professional Tests: In many fields, in order to be certified as professionals, candidates must take tests to prove they have learned everything required to perform their job duties. These tests are taken in the final semesters of school or after students have graduated. They include the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam, Bar Examination, NCLEX, PRAXIS, UCPA Exam, and the United States Medical Licensing Examination, among others. These can be some of the most important achievement tests students will even take, as failure to pass them can inhibit progress in a career.

Posted on 01/24/13 | by Staff Writers | in Admissions | No Comments »

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