An achievement test refers to any procedure used to measure the accumulated knowledge or skills of a student in a specific area of study (Cizek, 2004). There are many different types of achievement tests.
Standardized achievement tests are the most commonly recognized achievement tests. They are designed to measure academic knowledge in major subject areas such as math, science, and history.
Standardized tests are developed through a painstakingly complex process of administering pilot test items to different SES demographic samples. Test scores are used to make predictions about future academic performance. Examples include the ACT and the SAT.
Most states in the U. S. have developed their own standardized achievement tests to assess the effectiveness of K-12 public education.
Another type of achievement test is the one that a teacher administers to their students at the end of a chapter or academic term.
There are several other forms of achievement tests, including diagnostic tests, language proficiency tests, placement tests, norm-referenced, and criterion-referenced.
Achievement Tests Examples
- Diagnostic Tests: This may occur when a high school math teacher administers a comprehensive exam to his students at the beginning of the semester to determine if students are ready to take the next step (see also: formative assessment).
- Placement Tests: For example, the Spanish Department assesses the language skills of every incoming student and then uses their scores to decide if they should take a beginner, intermediate, or advanced course.
- Language Proficiency Tests: This may occur when a U. S. university asks all foreign students to report their TOEFL scores to determine if their English language skills are sufficient.
- Norm-Referenced Tests: The Admissions Office of a graduate school may require all applicants to take and report their scores on the GRE (Graduate Record Exam).
- Criterion-Referenced Tests: Nursing school students must obtain a minimum score on the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensing Exam for Registered Nurses) in order to work as a nurse in the U. S. or Canada.
- Subject Achievement Tests: For example, at the end of every chapter in Mr. Jones’ history course, students must take a 100-item multiple choice exam that will be part of their final grade.
- Performance-Based Criterion-Referenced Test: Students in the trade school for motorcycle repair may have to be able to make 8 out of 10 repairs on an engine in less than 2 hours in order to receive their diploma.
- Spelling Achievement Tests: At the end of every week, students in classes at schools around the world have to take a spelling test on the words they learned that week.
- Summative Tests: At the end of every academic year, students in grades 4-12 in California must take the CAT (California Achievement Test).
- Admissions Tests: For example, an international school in Singapore might administer admissions tests they spent years developing in-house to all applicants to determine if they are prepared for the rigorous curriculum.
Case Studies of Achievement Tests
1. School Readiness And Later Achievement
When children leave kindergarten and enter the first grade, the transition can be overwhelming. Class sizes are larger, the pace of learning is much more demanding, and teachers may be less willing to indulge individual tantrums. However, determining exactly what attributes are needed to ensure a smooth transition has been debated for years.
On the one hand, some firmly believe that fundamental reading and math skills are the most important. While many teachers and researchers argue that social and emotional skills are key.
For instance, Shonkoff and Phillips (2000) point to a statement by the National Research Council and Institute on Medicine which maintains that:
“the elements of early intervention programs that enhance social and emotional development are just as important as the components that enhance linguistic and cognitive competence” (pp. 398-399).
Duncan et al. (2007) conducted an analysis of six longitudinal data sets to determine the link between characteristics of school readiness and later achievement in reading and math.
The results revealed that early math and reading skills were the best predictors of later academic performance. In contrast, socio-emotional behaviors and social skills provided near-zero predictive utility.
2. Attaining A Black Belt
Although the term “black belt” is most often associated with Karate, the term also applies to other martial arts such as Akido and Tae Kwon Do. It can take 3-5 years to reach black belt status, depending on the specific martial arts being practiced.
Another misconception about the black belt is that it is the highest degree of mastery. In fact, however, it usually only signifies that a student has demonstrated a certain level of proficiency in the fundamental skills.
The tests for attaining the different colored belts are skills-based. This means that the system of testing is criterion-referenced. At each level, the student must demonstrate a minimum degree of skill before advancing to the next level.
To gain a clearer understanding of the martial arts and belt system, read this archived article published by Black Belt Magazine.
3. Job Simulation And Nursing Competence
There are few jobs that are as pressure-packed as nursing. Poor skills or errors in judgment can literally have life-and-death consequences. Therefore, developing a test that measures nursing competence is of vital importance.
Paper-and-pencil achievement tests used to evaluate the knowledge and skills of existing nurses fail to replicate the highly stressful nature of the job.
“Evaluation of clinical performance in authentic settings is possible using realistic simulations that do not place patients at risk” (Hinton, et al., 2017, p. 432).
Hinton et al. (2017) created the Nursing Performance Profile (NPP) that consists of numerous medical-surgical scenarios in a high-fidelity laboratory. Experienced professionals then observed the performance of existing nurses.
“Items frequently failed during NPP simulation tests are consistent with nursing practice difficulties identified in the literature related to medication errors, infection control, documentation, and telephone orders” (p. 454).
Those are the types of common errors that put patients at risk. The fact that the NPP was particularly sensitive to those types of errors should make it of substantial value to employers and industry regulators.
4. Computer-Adaptive Tests (CAT)
Testing via computers has been becoming increasingly popular for several reasons. These include the convenience of administration, the standardization of testing procedures, and the precision and ease of scoring. This method is referred to as adaptive computer testing (CAT).
One key feature of this form of testing is that the CAT adjusts the difficulty level of each question based on the test taker’s ongoing performance.
Each answer provided by the test-taker determines the level of difficulty of the subsequent item. If answered correctly, the next item will be more difficult. If answered incorrectly, the computer will select an item that is either equally difficult or slightly less so.
These adjustments are made in real-time and result in a more precise estimate of the test taker’s knowledge.
“Over the course of several decades, research has repeatedly demonstrated that CAT is more efficient than paper-and-pencil tests, with equal or better measurement precision” (Seo, 2017, p. 8).
5. Multi-Method Assessment
Traditional achievement tests in the classroom primarily consist of multiple-choice and short essay questions. These item formats are highly verbal-skills-centric, which puts many students at a distinct disadvantage. While some students possess the verbal skills to write a good essay, other students have strengths in other domains of expression.
Therefore, to be fair, testing should allow students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in ways that match their unique profiles.
This simply means that teachers should administer diverse assessment procedures so that a student’s final score in a course will reflect their true level of academic progress.
These diverse methods could include a performance-based assessment, such as an oral presentation or designing an infographic.
It could also entail a project-based assessment whereby the student demonstrates their level of knowledge and skills by constructing a 3D object or producing a poster presentation.
Multiple assessment methods of academic achievement give each student a fair opportunity to demonstrate their gains in a manner that matches their unique characteristics.
Achievement testing is a vital component of the education system. Students’ knowledge and skills must be ascertained in order for teachers and parents to know if their students/children are making progress.
There are many types of achievement tests used in a wide range of capacities.
Diagnostic tests are applied to determine if incoming students are ready to meet the challenges of a more advanced academic level. This is true not only of incoming university freshmen but also of incoming first-graders.
Other types of achievement tests are used to assess language skills or the competence of those wishing to enter a specific profession such as nursing, electrical engineering, or engine repair.
Although computer-assisted testing (CAT) is gaining popularity, it is also important that teachers understand the importance of giving students an opportunity to demonstrate their progress in ways that are suited to their learning styles.
Cizek, G. J. (2004). Achievement tests. In Charles D. Spielberger, (Ed.). Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology, 41-46.
Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., Klebanov, P., … & Japel, C. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1428.
Hinton, J., Mays, M., Hagler, D., Randolph, P., Brooks, R., DeFalco, N., Kastenbaum, B., & Miller, K. (2017). Testing nursing competence: Validity and reliability of the nursing performance profile. Journal of Nursing Measurement, 25(3), 431. https://doi.org/10.1891/1061-37126.96.36.1991
Naglieri, J., & Goldstein, S. (2009). Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of intelligence and achievement tests. In J. A. Naglieri & S. Goldstein, Practitioner’s guide to assessing intelligence and achievement (pp. 3–10). John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Phillips, D. A., & Shonkoff, J. P. (Eds.). (2000). From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. National Academies Press.
Seo, D. G. (2017). Overview and current management of computerized adaptive testing in licensing/certification examinations. Journal of Educational Evaluation for Health Professions, 14. https://doi.org/10.3352/jeehp.2017.14.17