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Standardized Tests & Student Motivation

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'OCCT Math Test Results (2)' photo (c) 2011, Wesley Fryer - license:

I’ve written a lot about the problems with standardized tests and how I ethically prepare my students for dealing with them (see The Best Posts On How To Prepare For Standardized Tests (And Why They’re Bad) ) — since they are a reality for us and, for more and more of us educators, student scores will affect our formal evaluation. In fact, I have an entire chapter in my latest book, Self-Driven Learning on ethical test prep. You can read an excerpt from that chapter over at Middleweb titled…Ethical and Effective Test Prep. In it, I share strategies I use with my students to help them motivate themselves for the test, and how they can also use those same strategies in future situations they might face.

Today, Dan Willingham sent a tweet about a new study paying students to work harder at taking the NAEP exam. I’m not going to go into a critique of it since I’ve detailed similar critiques in the past — including a likely short-term gain but equally as likely long-term loss (Test Prep Hullabaloo — Maybe Short Term Gain, For Sure Long Term Loss).

There was, however, one piece of info in the “literature review” section of the study that caught my eye:

There has been long-standing interest in the relationship between motivation and performance. The general review [of 14 studies] by Wise and DeMars (2005) concluded that the average difference in performance scores between motivated and unmotivated students is approximately 0.6 standard deviations.

In my book, I discuss research that showed at least fifteen percent and as much as thirty percent of student performance on standardized tests was attributable to motivation, but hadn’t seen the study this research cited. I asked Dan Willingham what a 0.6 standard deviation actually meant and he tweeted this response back: “that’s a pretty big effect–s.d. of IQ is 15, so it would be like raising someone’s IQ from 100 to 109.”

So it sounds like there is general agreement that motivation is a key part of student test-taking (in case you’re interested, the research cited in my book says that “test-wiseness” makes up 10-25 percent and should only involve a few classes — at most says the research — of learning test-taking strategies, while the bulk of the percentage is based on knowledge learned through regular lessons).

If we can’t get rid of the tests, let’s at least recognize that teaching a few ethical self-motivation strategies (not paying cash) and a handful of test-prep ideas is the way to go….

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

One Comment

  1. I just wrote a post on how student motivation comes from not standardising instruction:

    Our thinking is not too far off ;).

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