Explaining “Field Tests”: Top Six Things Parents Should Know

Field testing is a routine part of standardized test administration and many such field tests are occurring in a number of states this spring in one form or another. Because such field testing is so important and because it comes in many different varieties, it is important to understand some of the background.

1) Let’s start with the basics. What is a field test?

A field test (as defined by the National Council on Measurement in Education) is a test administration used during the test development process to check on the quality and appropriateness of test items, administration procedures, scoring, and/or reporting. Basically, this means that an “item” / test question (including reading passages, essay prompts) itself is tested, enabling educators and test developers to make sure that an item does measure what it is intended to measure—that the questions provide an accurate, fair and valid representation of what students know and can do.

2) Do field tests count toward my child’s grades or impact his or her achievement?

No. Field tests (be they separately administered tests or groups of items embedded within a ongoing assessment) never count toward a student’s score or ability to advance to the next grade. Students’ scores on these field-test items are only used to evaluate how well the items or test questions capture the knowledge and skills they are designed to measure.

3) If field tests aren’t used for scoring or grading, why are they done?

They are a vital element to the development of fair, high-quality tests. Field tests are done to help ensure questions used in upcoming standardized tests that count are fair for all students, of high quality and rigorous enough to comply with professional standards. It’s important for a state to know that questions, prompts, reading passages, or other test elements are worthy of being used to assess skills and knowledge appropriately.

Many needs are balanced when field testing is conducted, but two are very critical: (1) minimizing burden on students and schools and (2) administering tests that meet recommended industry standards. Minimizing field testing is vital so that time can be spent on instruction, but it’s also important to gather enough data to be able to evaluate the fairness of questions, to eliminate flawed items, and to build tests each year that cover a range of curriculum from the very easy to the very difficult.

4) What does field testing mean for my child?

Field testing is conducted to make sure that the standardized assessments used in your school or your state meet professional standards for quality and fairness. The goal of field testing is to make sure all questions are free from bias, are aligned to academic standards of your state and function appropriately. However, if you are concerned with how field testing may impact your child then contact your child’s school to learn more.

5) What kinds of field tests are there?

Generally, there are two approaches to field tests: embedding questions within assessments that count for students and standalone field-testing. In both cases, any question deemed unfair after field testing is thrown out and won’t appear on any future assessments.

Embedded Field Tests

Students take embedded field-test questions at the same time they take the rest of their standardized test. This is typically done for multiple-choice assessments. Whenever possible, states embed field-test questions in multiple forms of “live” tests so that these field-test questions are randomly distributed to a representative student population. Experience shows that these procedures can give the state an appropriate amount of data to ensure fairness in a very efficient manner. The embedded field-test questions are not counted on a student’s score.

Standalone Field Tests

Sometimes separate field tests are necessary due to factors like test structure (i.e., tests with open-ended questions, tests that required students to perform tasks or lengthy essays), a small student population, or method of test delivery. States administer these separate field tests at a different time than the state assessments that are reported publicly. As with embedded field-test items, a separate field test does not count toward student scores.

6) Once gathered, how is the information from field tests used?

After field testing, a range of stakeholders – generally teachers, school administrators, curriculum and assessment specialists who represent a range of ethnicities, genders, types and sizes of schools district, and geographical regions – all gather to review the data collected from the field test. This “data review” committee examines each test question (and related collateral like reading passages) to determine if each question is free from bias (economic, regional, cultural, gender, and ethnic) and that each is appropriately measuring what it was expected to measure. Questions that pass all stages of development—including field testing and this data review process— become eligible for use on future tests. Rejected questions are precluded from use on any test.