What Are Standardized Tests and What Do Those Test Scores Mean?

By Huntington Learning Center

Raising children today means that you’re very familiar with standardized testing.

Standardized tests have been around for a long time but became especially noteworthy in the early 2000s with the passing of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, which mandated annual testing of students in grades 3-8 in every state and had punitive provisions for schools that did not make adequate yearly progress toward grade-level standards.

In 2015, No Child Left Behind was replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which offers greater flexibility on standardized testing. Still, the fact remains: while your child is in school, she is going to be tested and measured via some form of standardized test.

What do standardized tests test?

To put it simply, they measure how students are progressing toward grade-level standards in core subjects including math, English language arts, science and social studies. Each state gives tests—often called statewide assessments—to students in grades 3 through 8 toward the end of the school year. Those exams are intended to provide an overall measurement of:

  • How your student is performing in key content areas.
  • What your student knows and what he needs to succeed in the future.
  • Whether he is on track toward building higher-level thinking skills such as writing and problem solving.

Across the nation, there has been a movement toward refocusing teaching on helping students learn and not preparing for standardized tests. So, the assessment of today is different than the assessment of several years ago. Students are spending less time taking tests, but states still place value on measuring what students know and what gaps exist (so they can determine how to close those gaps).

Types of assessment tests

When the Common Core State Standards were introduced in 2010, many states started using either the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) or Smarter Balanced tests that were aligned to Common Core. Things have changed since then, with only one-third of states using either test (as of spring 2019, according to Edweek.org). The other 32 states use tests that they designed themselves or purchased from another source, while three states give hybrid tests that mix their own questions with questions from PARCC/New Meridian or Smarter Balanced. Here’s a summary of the standardized 3-8 tests used in each state as of 2019:

State Name          3-8 Test

Alabama               Scantron

Alaska                   Performance Evaluation for Alaska's Schools (PEAKS)

Arizona                  AZMerit

Arkansas               ACT Aspire

California              Smarter Balanced

Colorado               Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS)

Connecticut          Smarter Balanced

Delaware               Smarter Balanced

D.C.                        PARCC

Florida                   Florida Standards Assessments (FSA)

Georgia                  Georgia Milestones

Hawaii                   Smarter Balanced

Idaho                     Smarter Balanced

Illinois                    PARCC

Indiana                  ILEARN

Iowa                       Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress (ISASP)

Kansas                   Kansas Assessment Program (KAP)

Kentucky              Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP)

Louisiana              Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP)

Maine                    Maine Educational Assessment (MEA)

Maryland              PARCC

Massachusetts     Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS)

Michigan               Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP), PSAT

Minnesota             Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA)

Mississippi             Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP)

Missouri                 Missouri Assessment Program (MAP)

Montana                 Smarter Balanced

Nebraska               Nebraska Student-Centered Assessment System (NSCAS)

Nevada                  Smarter Balanced

New Hampshire   New Hampshire Statewide Assessment System (NHSAS), *Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) (some districts)

New Jersey            PARCC

New Mexico         PARCC

New York              New York State Assessments

North Carolina     North Carolina End-of-Grade Tests

North Dakota       North Dakota State Assessment (NDSA)

Ohio                       Ohio's State Tests

Oklahoma             Oklahoma School Testing Program

Oregon                   Smarter Balanced

Pennsylvania        Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA)

Rhode Island        Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS)

South Carolina     SCReady

South Dakota       Smarter Balanced

Tennessee             TNReady

Texas                     State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR)

Utah                       Readiness Improvement Success Empowerment (RISE)

Vermont                Smarter Balanced

Virginia                  Standards of Learning (SOL)

Washington          Smarter Balanced

West Virginia        West Virginia General Summative Assessment

Wisconsin              Wisconsin Forward

Wyoming              Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress (WY-TOPP)


The most up-to-date information about testing in your state, including specific skills and subject areas that will be tested as well as any recommended or required high school tests (such as exit exams), is available on your state’s Department of Education website. For questions about how to help your child best prepare for success on any exam, standardized or other, contact Huntington at 1-800 CAN LEARN.