As winter ends and another wave of state tests begins, spring fever once again gives way to opt-out fever. Why do so many otherwise academically-motivated parents consider–and actually allow–having their children sit out the state tests that have become tied to Common Core Standards? Simply put, the initial presentation of these exams lacked that special something that inspires confidence that a test is worth taking.
When we consider whether an exam is worth our time, we look at three critical factors: validity, reliability, and fairness.
Test validity describes the degree to which a test measures what it claims to measure. The higher the validity, the more closely linked the test is to its stated focus. As the College Board says, tests themselves are not valid or invalid. Instead, we validate the use of a test score. This point deserves attention because much of the misinformation and anxiety around influential tests arises from invalid interpretation of otherwise useful scores. The type of validity most valued in admissions tests like the SAT & ACT is predictive validity.
UPSHOT: A test has high validity is worth preparing for.
Test reliability describes the stability or consistency of measurement over time. Similar inputs should produce similar results time after time. Of critical importance in standardized testing is test-retest reliability, which refers to exam consistency among different administrations. Tests that lack this level of reliability cannot be trusted because scores from different administrations would not be comparable.
UPSHOT: A test has high reliability can be effectively prepared for.
Test fairness describes its freedom from any kind of bias. Truly objective standardized tests should be appropriate for all qualified test takers regardless of race, religion, gender, social class, or age. This means that each question must be carefully crafted and screened to ensure that it tests only what it is intended to test without bias. The SAT struggled with a reputation as a “wealth test” for years, particularly after the infamous OARSMAN:REGATTA scandal that ultimately led to the 2005 demise of the Analogies question type.
UPSHOT: A test has high fairness provides a level playing field for test takers.
The SAT & ACT, both forged in a crucible of public scrutiny and controversy, have emerged as model citizens in the society of standardized tests. Dogged for decades by questions of bias or relevance, these classic college admissions tests improve every year in validity, reliability, and fairness. Of course, the public must remain vigilant as long as so much rides on test scores, but for now, trust that these exams are worth preparing for, can be prepared for, and provide a level playing field for test takers.