Why Standardized Achievement Tests are Sensitive to Socioeconomic Status Rather than Instruction and What to Do About It
6 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2009 Last revised: 8 Jan 2011
Date Written: January 31, 2009
In calling for "instructionally sensitive tests," Popham (2007a and 2007b) makes a point that has shown up in achievement test data since the 1960's (e.g. Coleman, 1966): standardized achievement tests are more sensitive to racial/socioeconomic differences than they are to instructional differences. The determinants of this finding lie in the theory and construction of the tests. This test theory was invented in the 1920's. At that time the dominant view in psychology was focused on"traits" or "factors." The quest was to illuminate these statistically. The view and the narrow quest have become obsolete, but the residual term, "ability" remains strong as a core concept of the tests.
The paper presents a non-technical explanation of Item Response Theory, which is the basis for prevailing standardized achievement test construction and use. It then presents an alternative methodology that has proved sensitive to identifying the differences in instructional programmes and in sorting out the instructional accomplishments of students, teachers, schools and superordinate administrative units.
Keywords: Standardized achievement tests, item response theory, educational measurement, natural educational experiments, program-fair testing, SWRL, 3RsPlus
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