Standardized tests have become a widespread tool in the education process. They are designed to be objective, but a new paper suggests that the time of the day in which students take the test might affect their overall mark.
An international team of researchers looked at the score of standardized tests taken by Danish school children aged 8 to 15. They discovered that for every hour later in the day, the test performance decreased by 0.9 percent. They also discovered that a short break would improve the average score by 1.7 percent.
The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, looked at over 2 million tests from almost 600,000 students. In Denmark, the tests are taken at different times throughout the day due to class scheduling and computer availability, so the timing of the test for each student was necessarily random.
Standardized tests are when the students all have to answer the same questions and are then scored in a consistent manner. They are also considered “standard” in the sense that they can be easily used to compare different groups of students. These types of test hold teachers and schools accountable for children's education, as scoring becomes public record.
“Standardized testing is commonly used to assess student knowledge across countries and often drives education policy,” the researchers wrote in the paper “Despite its implications for students’ development and future, it is not without bias.
“Moreover, as breaks and time of day clearly affect students’ test performance, we also expect other external factors like hunger, light conditions, and noise to play a role. These external factors should be accounted for when comparing test scores across children and schools.”
Understanding potential biases allow for a better approach to testing. It might not be possible to control all the sources, but knowing their origins could make the tests fairer. At the very least, this paper shows that schools should let the students taking a test later in the day have a break before the test.