I realise that there are some benefits of criterion-based standardised testing, however those who analyse and make decisions based on the results must do it from an informed perspective. Earlier this year I read a fantastic book by Jo Boaler entitled 'The Elephant in the classroom: Helping children learn and love Maths'. The book addressed many topics including, among others, the effects of ability grouping, assessment styles and teaching practices. Boaler based her arguments on research collected from longitudinal studies conducted in the UK and USA.
One of the discussions that interested me the most was about the different ways that boys and girls learn. Research shows that when an embryo reaches the stage that the sex is decided the specific changes occur in the genetic make up have potential ever-lasting results on the way that they learn. The onset of testosterone required for the development of the X chromosome in males destroys other parts of their genetic make up that affect communication. This is why a higher percentage of babies that are born with communication-based developmental disorders (such as autism) are males. This also means that females generally have a greater propensity to learn in a more communicative environment.
The way maths is still currently taught doesn't always lend itself to this style of learning, especially in middle and upper primary. Girls can be more inclined to talk things out, work collaboratively and discuss their findings whereas boys can find it easier to work through things on their own in a systematic approach. The 'skill and drill' environment that is still present in many classrooms can have a strong negative influence on performance and inclusion rates, especially for girls. Of course these learning styles don't fit the mould of every student. I have taught many boys that thrive in an environment where they can discuss their work and, conversely, there are many girls that find the opposite approach easy to relate to.
Those in charge of policy and curriculum decisions need to be up to date and aware of current research findings and take them into account when analysing things such as standardised test results, that are very closed, individualised performances. These aren't always a clear indication of a student's understanding.