Why Do We Use Standardized Tests?

What are the benefits to standardized testing?

They give us another tool to track an individual student’s progress. Standardized scores are by no means the only data that we have to assess student progress at Westminster Academy, because we believe that students are complex learners who show growth in diverse dimensions: academic, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical. We therefore have all sorts of measures to assess progress – test scores, writing assessments, poetry recitations, project presentations, dramatic and artistic representations, and observation. We view these tests as one more snapshot of student progress that helps to give us a more comprehensive picture.

They give us the ability to track the performance of a grade over time. It is such an encouragement to see growth in our students. They set a baseline in the early grades; from there, we track their progress across the rest of elementary school and into Upper School. Because of this benefit, standardized testing of some form is required by accrediting institutions, including the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS).

They help us to assess our curriculum. By examining trends in our performance on these standardized tests, we can see how the scope and sequence of our curriculum prepares students over time. For instance, the trends in math have shown that gaps in achievement in early grades disappear over time – a trend we would expect to see as our math program emphasizes depth of learning and number sense in the early grades (as opposed to learning about a variety of unrelated topics) and moves students through a careful progression of topics through the middle grades.

They allow us to compare our school’s performance with other classical Christian schools, with area private schools, and with the national average. The test that we use is also widely used in the Memphis area, which allows us to use it in our admissions process. While we do not use this test to explicitly compare our students to students at other schools, it is a good indicator of where our students stand in comparison to their peers. In case you’re curious, Westminster students are doing great! Last year, 92% of the 3rd grade students ranked in the 4th stanine or above in Reading Comprehension, compared to 77% of students nationally who attend independent schools. Last year’s 6th grade class ranked in the 96th percentile nationally in Writing Mechanics, versus the average of 85th percentile for independent schools. We see Westminster students continue to excel in standardized testing through high school, as the seniors for the last three years have achieved the highest average ACT score of any co-ed school in the city.

While the data can be meaningful, we do NOT use the results for….

  • Determining teacher salaries or bonuses
  • Determining what we teach or when we teach it
  • Determining student grades
  • Determining student “success”
  • Determining teacher “success”

Standardized tests have been vilified, but, like any tool, we ought not to blame it when it has been mishandled. At Westminster Academy, we want to use the tool of standardized testing to help us attain our goal of training students to love that which is worth loving. These tests give us an opportunity to reflect on the job that we have done and how we can better create an educational environment that will shape the minds and hearts of our students.