Glossary of Terms for Testing in Education

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Alex Dowdy
Senior Program Manager, Education
George W. Bush Institute

A guide to the terms used when discussing testing and assessments in the classroom.

Advanced Placement: Courses offered at the high school level that allow students to earn college credit.

Advanced Placement or “AP” tests: Standardized exams that allow students to show mastery of content and skills in an Advanced Placement course.

Reliability: Test consistently measures what it says it will.

Validity: Whether the test is measuring what it should measure.

Comparability:  Scores, standards, and structure of one assessment are aligned with another. For example, some districts align their local exams with the state standards and exam.

Psychometrician: Someone who devises, constructs, and standardizes exams.

Cut scores: The score which separates levels of student achievement on a scale. Multiple cut scores on a scale create bands of individual student performance such as advanced, proficient, needs improvement, or unsatisfactory.

Diagnostic assessment: A pre-evaluation to help teachers determine a students’ skills and knowledge. The exam gives teachers the ability to adapt materials to students’ current knowledge in advance of a unit of study.

District assessment: District tests that evaluate student achievement aligned to a specific grade-level.

Formative assessment: Data that teachers collect daily in their classroom to help inform future instruction; examples include weekly quizzes and exit tickets (quick end of day/class assessments).

Summative assessment: An evaluation of student learning at the end of a unit, semester, or school year that is usually high stakes; examples include a state test, mid-term/final exam, or a final research paper.

Standards: Learning goals determined by a state agency for what each student should be able to master in each grade level.

Standardized assessment: Any form of a test that requires all test takers to answer the same questions in the same way.  It is scored uniformly.

Test prep: Materials focused on preparing a student to master an exam.

ACT: A standardized test used primarily for college admission. The different sections include English, math, reading, science, and writing (optional). The highest score a student can receive is a 36.

SAT: A standardized test administered by the College Board used primarily for college admission. The different sections include math, reading and writing, and an optional essay portion. An overall score can total up to 1600.

NAEP: The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card.  The test is administered to students in fourth, eighth, and 12th grades around the country, primarily assessing reading and mathematics. Results are reported as percentages of students performing at or above achievement levels at the state level (select district level scores available).  It is comparable across states, making it an important policy and research tool.