With the start of another school year comes the guarantee of yet another year packed full of testing for students. Standardized testing is an unavoidable part of U.S. schoolkids’ lives, and while the sheer number of tests students are subjected to has risen steadily over the last half century, the function of these tests has also changed. At the outset, federally mandated tests were often used for descriptive, diagnostic purposes. But over the course of a decades-long accountability movement, test scores have increasingly been used to monitor school performance, with sanctions and rewards attached.
Increasingly, states are passing laws that tie teachers’ job evaluations and their job security to their students’ test scores. Testing, and using tests to hold students and educators accountable, is a central part of education policy today. That doesn’t mean it’s uncontroversial policy.
Recent high-profile teacher cheating scandals in places like Atlanta and Washington, D.C. have given many pause. As educators and students are forced to chase ever higher, and perhaps unrealistic, expectations of test score gains, testing critics now wonder if the testing obsession has educators focusing too much on narrow evaluations at the expense of students’ actual education.
Here now, a roundup of the broad categories of standardized tests that students can expect in the course of their K-12 careers.