North Dakota began to use standardized tests in 1929. The Stanford Achievement test allowed students to be compared in their class, their grade across the state, and to students of the same age around the nation. Theoretically, the standardized test eliminated teachers’ subjective scoring of their own classroom examinations allowing educators to make comparisons that demonstrated the quality of instruction and learning in all schools. The questions were designed in light of the newest scholarship. Test questions were constructed so that some questions could be answered by all students, but other questions tested the ability of the best students who had advanced in their education.
Scholars acknowledged that standardized tests had serious limitations. They measured factual knowledge and skills, and were not a good measurement of reasoning. There was also the danger that teachers would design their lessons to raise test scores. The scores, test administrators cautioned, did not correlate to norms that were absolute in defining success or failure of a school, but were arbitrary and only useful as a value to be compared to other schools.
In North Dakota, test administrators checked individual test items against the North Dakota Elementary Course of Study. The Literature Test was the only one of 10 tests that did not correlate well with the North Dakota course of study in literature. There were 80 questions on the literature test; only 17 could be found in the North Dakota Course of Study for Elementary Grades. Seven more questions were based on the Bible, but the answers to these questions were not covered in the usual coursework. Ten questions were based on literature studies assigned to ninth grade students. The remaining 46 questions not specifically found in the course of study “might or might not be included in the work done in school.” (p. 10) It is not surprising, therefore, that North Dakota students did not do well on the Literature Test.
Table I gives only total scores for rural students in grades 4 through 8. For instance, 242 fourth grade students took the test. The median (Md) score of 43.6 was 14.4 points lower than the national median score.
Table III shows the scores achieved on each test (left hand column) by all the students in each grade (II through VIII) who sat for the test in North Dakota’s cities. All of the averages are above the national standard.
Table V shows the scores achieved on each test (left hand column) by all the students in each grade (II through VIII) who sat for the test in North Dakota’s towns. The averages are close to the national standards, but a few fall below. The tests topics are numbered as follows:
Test I: Paragraph Meaning
Test II: Word Meaning
Test III: Dictation (Spelling)
Test IV: Language Usage
Test V: Literature
Test VI: History and Civics
Test VII: Geography
Test VIII: Physiology and Hygiene
Test IX: Arithmetic Reasoning
Test X: Arithmetic Computation
Source: Robert D. Cole, Educational Achievement in North Dakota City, Town and Rural Schools, Departmental Bulletin of the University of North Dakota Vol. XV, April 1931, No. 2.
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