# Standardized Testing In Plain Words

I hate the concept of those books with titles like “something or other for dummies” or “idiot’s guide to whatever” because of the implication that if you don’t know microbiology or how to create a bonsai tree of take out your own appendix you must be a moron. I once had a student ask me if there was a structural equation modeling for dummies book. I told her that if you are doing structural equation modeling you’re no dummy. I’m assuming you’re no dummy and I felt like doing some posts on standardized testing without the jargon.

I haven’t been blogging about data analysis and programming lately because I have been doing so much of it. One project I completed recently was analysis of data from a multi-year pilot of our game, Spirit Lake.

Before playing the game, students took a test to assess their mathematics achievement. Initially, we created a test that modeled the state standardized tests administered during the previous year, which were multiple choice. We knew that students in the schools were performing below grade level but how far below surprised both us and the school personnel. A sample of 93 students in grades 4 and 5 took a test that measured math standard for grades 2 through 5. The mean score was 37%. The highest score was 63%.

Think about this for a minute in terms of local and national norms. The student , let’s call him Bob, who received a 63% was the highest among students from two different schools across multiple classes. (These were small, rural schools.) So, Bob would be the ‘smartest’ kid in the area. With a standard deviation of 13%, Bob scored two standard deviations above the mean.

Let’s look at it from a different perspective, though. Bob, a fifth-grader, took a test where three-fourths of the questions were at least a year, if not, two or three, below his current grade level, and barely achieved a passing score. Compared to his local norm, Bob is a frigging genius. Compared to national norms, he’s none too bright. I actually met Bob and he is a very intelligent boy, but when most of his class still doesn’t know their multiplication tables, it’s hard for the teacher to get time to teach Bob decimals, and really, why should she worry, he’s acing every test. Of course, the class tests are a year below what should be his grade level.

One advantage of standardized testing, is that if every student in your school or district is performing below grade level it allows you to recognize the severity of the problem and not think “Oh, Bob is doing great.”

He wouldn’t be the first student I knew who went from a ‘gifted’ program in one community to a remedial program when he moved to a new, more affluent school.

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