Achievement tests for elementary school children in the United States are losing their validity because all 50 states claim their students test "above the norm," said a report by the Utah Foundation. But Utah students still appear to be coming in above average scholastically.
Elementary-level tests across the country have three disadvantages, according to the report. The first is that the tests are prepared by commercial publishers or local school authorities. Only seven states, one of which is Utah, use the same test. A standardized test for all elementary school children across the country is not used.The second problem is that the publishers of the tests include scores of publisher-selected "norm groups" to compare to the scores of students taking the test. The "norm group" may not bear any resemblance to the students taking the test, but it makes it statistically possible for every state to claim its students are "above the norm."
The third problem occurs when school officials deliberately inflate students' scores or include questions from the tests in the regular curriculum so students score higher, said the report.
Utah elementary students are tested in the fifth and eleventh grades, and the report said state school officials say they do not inflate or artificially improve scores. In support of this claim, the analysts found that secondary level tests, which are uniformly written and monitored, are consistent with the elementary school scores.
High school seniors nationwide take the American College Test and the Scholastic Aptitude Test. The ACT and SAT are thought of as "college entrance exams" although not all of the students taking the tests go on to college.
In 1988 Utah students scored above the national average on the ACT in all subjects but math. An "impressive" 65 percent of Utah's high school seniors took the test, said the report, a considerably higher percentage than in most other states. The high percentage of takers backs up the elementary scores, because it is a majority of high school students, not a motivated minority.