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The Terra Nova Achievement Test

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D


Q: My son who is seven years old completed Terra Nova testing in school. His scores were in the middle of the 75th percentile across the board. Is this test conclusive on his further educational development? On the other side if a child scored 99% does this merit being gifted or very focused?

A: Basically, the reason for the testing is:

  • To identify and examine areas of strength and weakness in the performance of students

  • To provide a basis for reports to parents and students

  • To inform teachers of the needs of their students. This helps in working toward increasing student achievement and closing achievement gaps.

Briefly (for readers who are not yet familiar), the Terra Nova is a standardized achievement test designed to provide achievement scores that are valid for most types of educational decision-making. Areas that are assessed are Reading/Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies. Primarily, the inferences from the test results include measurement of achievement of individual students relative to a current nationwide normative group and relative program effectiveness based on the results of groups of students. Progress can be tracked over years and grades. The results is used to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a student's achievement in each content area, to plan for further instruction, to plan for curriculum development, and to report progress to parents. The purpose is to assess academic achievement for most types of educational decision-making. (E.g., on program effectiveness, class grouping, needs assessment, and placement in special programs)

In terms of educational reliability, the Terra Nova has had the advantage of longstanding and thorough data on validity and reliability. In terms of content validity, it has proven to be on par with the best achievement test batteries. The test was developed through numerous revisions with a specific focus on relevance to actual curricular practice.

Having said that, there are also some weaknesses found in this method of testing. The formatting of the test may not be familiar to many students and teachers. As for Reading/Language Arts assessment, the test does not require a writing sample, which may be of benefit to some students. Some teachers find that the readability of the achievement test is sometimes cumbersome and the length of the test seemed to be too much for students.

Hence, I would suggest that no test be taken as conclusive for any further educational development. As a parent, what you may do is to discuss with his teachers the areas that he may not have performed well and use that information to help in those areas rather than making any decision on his future educational development. For such achievement tests, practice makes perfect, therefore a child who has access to such materials and works on them would surely be more familiar with the testing and generally have a chance to fare better. Some schools use this test as placement in gifted program, which is fair for some students but I believe that there are many other factors that may be considered. Therefore, at seven, achievement test results should not be used as conclusive for his further educational development, but as a guide to help him in areas that he may need some extra mentoring.


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