What Are Achievement Tests?

Students taking test in classroom
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Achievement tests have always been part of school, but they have taken on more pronounced importance in American education with the passage of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. Achievement tests are typically standardized and designed to measure subject and grade-level specific knowledge. Historically, they have been used as a way to determine at what level a student is performing in subjects such as math and reading. The 2001 law, which was replaced in 2015 with President Obama's Every Student Succeeds Act, linked the results on achievement tests to a wide range of political and administrative outcomes, from funding of school programs to individual teacher salaries.


The origins of standardized testing go back to the Confucian era in China when would-be government officials were screened for their aptitudes. Western societies, indebted to the models provided by Greek culture, favored testing by essay or oral examination. With the industrial revolution and the explosion in childhood education, standardized tests emerged as a way of assessing large groups of children quickly.

In France in the early 20th century, the psychologist Alfred Binet developed a standardized test that would eventually become the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test, a major component of the modern IQ test. By World War I, standardized tests were a common way to assess the fitness for various branches of the armed forces.

What Do the Tests Measure?

The most common standardized tests are the ACT and SAT. Both are used to determine the fitness of prospective college students. Different tests are more popular in different parts of the country, and they test slightly differently. Students show a propensity for one test or the other: the SAT is geared toward testing logic, while the ACT is considered more a test of accumulated knowledge.

No Child Left Behind opened the door to more extensive testing, as the results of achievements became a measure of a school's effectiveness. The explosive growth in the testing industry answered a call for assessments in grade schools as well, with students typically facing standardized testing every year after the third grade.

Popular Achievement Tests

In addition to the ACT and SAT, there are a number of achievement tests that are given to students in American public schools. Some of the most popular assessments are:

  • Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT)
  • Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement (KTEA)
  • Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement (WJ)
  • Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT-R)
  • Metropolitan Achievement Test (MAT)
  • National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

A number of private companies have emerged to get a piece of the assessment game. Some of the more popular ones:

  • California Achievement Test
  • ITBS - Iowa Test of Basic Skills
  • STAR Early Literacy, STAR Math, and STAR Reading
  • Stanford Achievement Test
  • TerraNova
  • WorkKeys
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Your Citation
Morin, Amanda. "What Are Achievement Tests?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, thoughtco.com/achievement-tests-620810. Morin, Amanda. (2020, August 25). What Are Achievement Tests? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/achievement-tests-620810 Morin, Amanda. "What Are Achievement Tests?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/achievement-tests-620810 (accessed July 25, 2021).