Assessments are an inordinately important part of education.  Education is the act or process of providing individuals with useful information and help them develop necessary skills. Thus, testing is needed in order to assess how successful the students are and how effective instructional methods have been.

Those, however, are not the only purposes of testing. Today, educators and psychologists have discovered a few more uses for educational testing. First, students should be tested whether a certain educational program suits them. This type of test is used to classify students to see if they need special assistance in learning or if they are talented in any subjects. The textbook mentions that “a movement towards inclusion [i.e. putting students of significantly different aptitudes in the same class] has taken hold.” In other words, some of the faculty of special educations want their students to spend as much time in a mainstream classroom as possible. They believe that their students will benefit from the assistance offered by their “normal” peers. Personally, I partially disagree with this point of view (thanks to Mr. Marshall for correcting me here). It is truly beneficial for special needs students to spend time in a mainstream classroom with mostly average peers. Special students can receive assistance from both their classmates and teachers while students around the average level enjoy the repetition of concepts either from helping their peers or from the teachers helping their peers, which helps them do better in that class. In addition, it familiarizes students with those at different levels than they are. However, talented students will stagnate in such a class because it fails to meaningfully challenge them. While they help their peers improve, they themselves do not improve very much.

Second, tests are used as an attempt to measure aptitude and intelligence. These kinds of tests arise from the field of psychometrics, which literally means measuring the mind. Obvious examples of tests belonging to this category are the IQ Test and the SAT Reasoning Test. Even though I have never taken the official IQ Test before, I took an intelligence test when I enrolled at AIS. It said my intelligence falls into the normal range. I therefore expect to get a score of around 100 if I take the official IQ Test. The reason why I have faith in the modern IQ Test is because its method of quantifying intelligence is much more sophisticated than its classical version, which is probably too simple and thus seriously flawed. My textbook only mentions that the algorithm is similar to how teachers “grade on a curve.” However, I suspect that psychologists probably employ a more rigorous mathematical procedure to do so, for the sake of scientific credibility.

I have taken the SAT Reasoning Test twice; both times I got 1870, which is above the average score of 1500. I am genuinely impressed with this result. It shows that the SAT Reasoning Test has exceptional test-retest reliability. In fact, it is a “dead shot.” Last October, I took the PSAT at AIS. All of them in general suggest that I need to improve my reading skills and that my aptitudes in writing and mathematics are good. Their face validity is probably high; I have a lot of opportunities to work on writing and mathematics lately but not so much on voluntary reading. College Board certainly works hard to ensure the quality of every single test they administer. That can be seen by the rigor of every single question, which have one and only one correct answer. As a “veteran” of the SAT, I think it is quite valid because non-math questions therein tend to avoid American-centrism. I remember seeing questions mentioning Vietnamese culture. They also give students a sense of how well they performed on the exam statistically by giving a percentile of how they did compared to everyone who has taken it. I intend to take the SAT II Subject Test in Mathematics and Physics in the near future and add those results into my college application. I think it makes sense to do so because besides the fact that some universities require students to take both SAT I and II, SAT II attempts to assess students’ aptitude and understanding of high school materials by American standards. Of course, students may opt to take AP exams as well. Yet, these cover college-level knowledge and students are generally not expected to know topics covered in universities before they get there. In addition, both (AP and SAT) are standardized tests; this means the results ought to be both reliable and valid.

Having said that, I would like to challenge the notion of so-called SAT Words. College Board themselves never mentioned this set of vocabulary, as far as I understand. In addition, having taken multiple practice exams, I know that the likelihood of a very uncommon word appearing is quite small. For this reason, the best way to excel in the SAT is, frankly, the old fashion way: doing well in high school and reading extensively with a dictionary.

This little discussion prompts my interest in mathematical statistics. I may not have the resources to take that class next year. However, I will certainly have a chance to do so at university. A little peek at such a course offered at Princeton University looks exciting!

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2 responses »

  1. Mr. M. says:

    A very thoughtful post, Scott. I enjoy your application of the information about mainstreaming students with special needs. Let me point out a few things:
    (1) When you have a classroom of widely varying abilities, it is imperative that the teacher differentiate instruction to meet those varying needs and abilities. Without differentiation, then students languish. This is often a systemic failure when mainstreaming.
    (2) Having people with obvious differences in our environment does two things for us: (a) it exposes us to those people so we habituate to their appearance, behavior, and needs, and, therefore, those things are not so odd to us; (b) we learn to interact successfully with them and regard them as human beings; and (c) we get to practice in a controlled protected environment.
    (3) Mainstreaming seems to help everyone or at least not hurt them except for the most advanced students. When someone with special needs is placed in a mainstream classroom they benefit academically, i.e. their scores improve. When middle-of-the-road students are in the same classroom with special needs students, often their scores improve due to the changes in the classroom — repetition, opportunities of review when helping someone else. But, students who are not challenged by the class content to begin with often spend their time helping others and not increasing their skills or knowledge and their scores usually suffer or stagnate.

    Your observations about the standardized tests you’ve taken are largely correct. To maximize the benefit of writing something like this, match the types of validity and reliability that you’ve observed in those tests.

    Keep up the GOOD work!
    Mr. M.

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