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  • The first standardized tests that we know of

  • were administered in China over 2,000 years ago during the Han dynasty.

  • Chinese officals used them to determine aptitude for various government posts.

  • The subject matter included philosophy, farming, and even military tactics.

  • Standardized tests continued to be used around the world for the next two millennia,

  • and today, they're used for everything from evaluating stair climbs for firefighters in France

  • to language examinations for diplomats in Canada to students in schools.

  • Some standardized tests measure scores only in relation to the results of other test takers.

  • Others measure performances on how well test takers meet predetermined criteria.

  • So the stair climb for the firefighter could be measured by comparing the time of the climb to that of all other firefighters.

  • This might be expressed in what many call a bell curve.

  • Or it could be evaluated with reference to set criteria,

  • such as carrying a certain amount of weight a certain distance up a certain number of stairs.

  • Similarly, the diplomat might be measured against other test-taking diplomats,

  • or against a set of fixed criteria, which demonstrate different levels of language proficiency.

  • And all of these results can be expressed using something called a percentile.

  • If a diplomat is in the 70th percentile, 70% of test takers scored below her.

  • If she scored in the 30th percentile, 70% of test takers scored above her.

  • Although standardized tests are sometimes controversial, they are simply a tool.

  • As a thought experiment, think of a standardized test as a ruler.

  • A ruler's usefulness depends on two things.

  • First, the job we ask it to do.

  • Our ruler can't measure the temperature outside or how loud someone is singing.

  • Second, the ruler's usefulness depends on its design.

  • Say you need to measure the circumference of an orange.

  • Our ruler measures length, which is the right quantity,

  • but it hasn't been designed with the flexibility required for the task at hand.

  • So, if standardized tests are given the wrong job,

  • or aren't designed properly, they may end up measuring the wrong things.

  • In the case of schools, students with test anxiety may have trouble performing their best on a standardized test,

  • not because they don't know the answers,

  • but because they're feeling too nervous to share what they've learned.

  • Students with reading challenges may struggle with the wording of a math problem,

  • so their test results may better reflect their literacy rather than numeracy skills.

  • And students who were confused by examples on tests that contain unfamiliar cultural references may do poorly,

  • telling us more about the test taker's cultural familiarity than their academic learning.

  • In these cases, the tests may need to be designed differently.

  • Standardized tests can also have a hard time measuring abstract characteristics or skills,

  • such as creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration.

  • If we design a test poorly, or ask it to do the wrong job, or a job it's not very good at,

  • the results may not be reliable or valid.

  • Reliability and validity are two critical ideas for understanding standardized tests.

  • To understand the difference between them,

  • we can use the metaphor of two broken thermometers.

  • An unreliable thermometer gives you a different reading each time you take your temperature,

  • and the reliable but invalid thermometer is consistently ten degrees too hot.

  • Validity also depends on accurate interpretations of results.

  • If people say the results of a test mean something they don't, that test may have validity problem.

  • Just as we wouldn't expect a ruler to tell us how much an elephant weighs, or what it had for breakfast,

  • we can't expect standardized tests alone to reliably tell us how smart someone is,

  • how diplomats will handle a tough situation,

  • or how brave a firefighter might turn out to be.

  • So standardized tests may help us learn a little about a lot of people in a short time,

  • but they usually can't tell us a lot about a single person.

  • Many social scientists worry about test scores resulting in sweeping and often negative changes for test takers,

  • sometimes with long-term life consequences.

  • We can't blame the tests, though.

  • It's up to us to use the right tests for the right jobs, and to interpret results appropriately.

  • If you would like to learn more about this topic, we highly recommend a best selling book called

  • The End of Average by Harvard Professor Todd Rose.

  • In it, Rose investigated the rampant misuse of standardized test with clarity and urgency.

  • He also proposes a solution to a problem.

  • You can download the audio version of this book for free on

  • And every free trial encourages audible to continue supporting Ted-Ed nonprofit mission.

  • We are very passionate about this issue. And, we are very grateful to

  • any Ted-Ed community members, who take time to read or listen to this important book.

  • Thanks for watching. And, thanks for your support.

The first standardized tests that we know of

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B1 US TED-Ed standardized test ruler percentile validity

【TED-Ed】Should we get rid of standardized testing? - Arlo Kempf

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    osmend posted on 2018/01/22
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