Testing and Evaluation
Evaluation (ee-val-yoo-AY-shun) is the process of examining a problem or condition so that it can be understood and diagnosed. Testing is one of the ways to evaluate possible behavioral and mental health problems. Tests also can be used to measure normal abilities, such as intelligence, personality, certain brain functions, learning capabilities, and school progress.
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Neil was glad that he had remembered to bring an extra pencil with him to school today. He tapped it nervously on the desk while the teacher passed out booklets for the standardized test his class was about to take. Even though he knew this test did not count for his report card, he wanted to do well. As soon as the teacher finished giving the instructions, Neil opened the test booklet and began to read the first question.
What Are Standardized Tests?
A standardized test is a test that is given under the same conditions to everyone who takes it. The questions on the test, the instructions, the time allowed for taking the test, and the rules for scoring it are the same every time the test is given and for every person who takes it. For example, students in classrooms across the country may take the same standardized test to measure school progress. At each school the same test booklets, answer sheets, and instructions are used.
Standardized tests make it possible to compare the scores of a large group of people. For example, the math scores of all sixth grade students in the country can be compared using a standardized test. It would not be possible to make such comparisons with the regular tests teachers make for their own classes, because those tests most likely would differ in ease or difficulty or might include different material. Using such tests, it would not be possible to make fair comparisons among students in different classes.
What Does a Score on a Standardized Test Mean?
The results of a standardized academic (schoolwork) test can show how well a student scored in certain subjects, such as reading comprehension (com-pree-HEN-shun) or math problem solving, compared with other students in the same grade throughout the country. Scores usually are given as percentiles in this type of test. For example, a student may score in the 86th percentile in reading comprehension. This means that the student could read and understand the readings as well as or better than 86 percent of all the students in the same grade who were tested.
What Do Standardized Tests Measure?
There are many types of standardized tests. Different tests measure different things. There are standardized tests that can measure school progress, intelligence, memory, and behavior capabilities. Some standardized tests are given to a whole group of people at once, while others are given individually. Group tests generally are given in a classroom, such as tests that measure school progress. Scores show how well a student is doing in school subjects compared with all other students in the same grade. A typical standardized test to measure academic progress consists of a test booklet with multiple-choice questions and a separate answer sheet on which the student fills in a circle to mark the correct answer.
Group standardized tests can measure academic progress at every level. Colleges and universities often use these tests to help decide whether to accept someone as a student. For example, colleges and universities often require applicants to take a standardized test called the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), graduate schools may require a standardized test called the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), and medical schools usually require a standardized test called the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Scores from these tests help a college or university compare the abilities of students who are applying and decide which students to accept. These tests measure how much a student has learned in school and how well a student can solve problems, as well as other learned skills or natural aptitudes that may make someone a good student. Tests are just one measure of someone's capabilities, and they are generally just one of several factors used in evaluating an applicant for a college or university.
What Are Psychological Tests?
Some tests are given only by psychologists (sy-KAH-lo-jists), and they are called psychological (sy-ko-LAH-ji-kal) tests. Among the most common psychological tests are those that measure intelligence. Intelligence tests are examples of standardized psychological tests. Some other psychological tests are not standardized, but they can still provide important information about a person's personality, feelings, ideas, and concerns and can help evaluate and diagnose problems they may have. Most psychological tests are given individually and involve a face-to-face meeting with the psychologist during testing.
One commonly used psychological test to measure intelligence (IQ) in childhood is the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (ages 6 to 16). There is also the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, which can be given to anyone over the age of 16. Intelligence tests also can help evaluate a person for possible learning disabilities, attention problems, and mental retardation. These tests can accurately measure a person's intelligence under most circumstances, but some things may prevent a person from scoring her best, such as not feeling well or being extremely nervous about taking the test. The psychologist takes these possibilities into account and decides whether the test on that day should be considered an accurate reading of the person's true capabilities.
Placing Students in the Right Classroom
Paula was not sure what to expect when it came time for her to meet with Dr. James, the school psychologist. She knew there would be tests, but she did not know what type. As she walked from her classroom to Dr. James's office, she felt just a little nervous. But as Dr. James showed her what to do, Paula felt more at ease. Paula found that taking the tests was interesting. Some things were easy, and others were more difficult. There were vocabulary words, number problems, puzzle pieces to put together, and pictures to arrange in order. There were about a dozen tests in all. Dr. James asked Paula to work quickly but carefully, and she used a stopwatch to time how long it took Paula to do certain parts of the test, like arranging blocks to match a design. Paula was excited when, a few weeks later, she found out that she had done well enough on the tests to be placed in the gifted students class next year. The test Paula had taken was the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children.
Paula's best friend, Kim, took the same tests, as well as some others, with Dr. James, but for a different reason. Kim had been having trouble with her schoolwork and was finding it hard to remember what she read. In Kim's case, the tests helped Dr. James diagnose a learning disability. The tests showed that although Kim was quite intelligent, her learning disability was preventing her from doing her best work. Kim started to go to a learning support class and knew it was helping when she got a B+ on her reading test.
What Are Personality Tests?
Certain psychological tests assess personality. Some personality tests are standardized, while others are not. An example of a standardized personality test is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which can measure a person's usual personality style. Although this test is designed for adults, it can be used for teens and there are variations that are made for younger children. Another standardized personality test for older teens and adults is called the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-Adolescent (MMPI-A), which helps identify problems with personality.
Projective tests also give information about someone's personality. Projective tests are not standardized, but psychologists follow certain guidelines for scoring and interpreting them. Projective tests usually include pictures that could have many possible meanings. People are asked to say what they see in the picture or to tell a story about it. Examples are the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) for older teens and adults and the Children's Apperception Test (CAT) for younger children. The Rorschach Test is a projective test in which a person is shown a series of inkblot designs on cards and asked what they see in the inkblot. These tests are called projective tests because people project their own imagination, ideas, and personality onto the inkblots or pictures.
What Are Neuropsychological Tests?
A specialized group of psychological tests measure brain capacities that can affect a person's behavior. These tests can help evaluate brain damage. These neuropsychological (nur-o-sy-ko-LAW-ji-kal) tests can measure such brain functions as memory, attention, eye-hand coordination, mental processing, and reaction speed * . Neuropsychological tests may be used to evaluate the effects of a brain injury, brain infection, or stroke or to assess people who have problems with memory, balance or learning or people who might have dementia * . Examples of neuropsychological test batteries include the Halstead-Reitan and the Luria-Nebraska tests. Each battery * includes a number of tests that are analyzed to find a pattern of functions. For example, some tests might examine language functions (left brain activities), some might compare motor coordination with each hand (comparing how each side of the brain works), and some might evaluate rapid decision making and problem solving (examining frontal brain regions).
Adaptive behavior tests can measure people's capabilities to care for themselves and carry out other types of behavior important for daily living, such as counting money, shopping, and taking public transportation. They also can assess various job skills. Adaptive behavior tests often are used to evaluate the strengths, capabilities, and needs of someone who has mental retardation.
Vocational * tests can assess people's interests, skills, and aptitudes for particular jobs. There are also many kinds of tests that allow people to choose words or phrases that best describe them. Such "self-report" tests include checklists about behavior, feelings, or problems. These checklists can help identify important issues and start a discussion with a mental health professional who may be evaluating a person's needs and how best to help that person. For example, a self-report measure to examine possible attention deficit hyperactivity disorder might include symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and poor concentration. Scores are rated against how others self-report to give an indication of how significant the symptom pattern might be within a person's age group.
* reaction speed is the time it takes to respond to a stimulus.
* dementia (de-MEN-sha) is a condition that causes a person to lose the ability to think, remember, and act. There also may be changes in personality and behavior.
* battery in this case refers to a group of related tests that are given together.
* vocational (vo-KAY-shun-al) means relating to training in a particular job skill.
Tests are not the only means of finding out about a person. In fact, the most commonly used method of evaluation by psychologists and other mental health professionals is the interview. Interviewing, which consists of questions and answers and in-depth discussion, is a very important and effective way to evaluate a person's emotional and behavioral condition. Mental health professionals are trained to use interviews to understand the many aspects of someone's situation and to begin to diagnose possible problems.
How Evaluation and Testing Can Help
Evaluation, which sometimes includes testing, is the first step toward diagnosing a person's mental health condition and possible behavioral, emotional, or learning problems. Evaluation and testing lead to a greater understanding of a problem or condition and pave the way for effective treatment. Evaluation and testing also can provide greater understanding of a person's intelligence, vocational interests, aptitudes, and learning needs, so that an educational plan can be put in place that is best suited to that person's strengths and needs.