Standardized Testing Begins in Iowa

Tests are a regular part of everyone’s school experience. They are important tools teachers use to measure students’ strengths and weaknesses. The Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) is given to most Iowa students every year.

It All Began in 1929

In that year, high school students competed in a contest called the Iowa Academic Meet. The tests used for the meet were written by educators at the University of Iowa. At first, tests were given to students each spring in participating high schools. The tests were scored at the schools with results sent to the University of Iowa. The top-scoring students in each subject went to the University of Iowa for final testing. The top students in each subject received medals at a banquet which followed.

Amazing Results

Teachers were sometimes amazed when they saw the results of the tests. The students with the best grades did not always receive the highest scores and those with the poorest grades sometimes did very well on the tests. These results gave many students a boost.

A Tradition Begins

In 1935, the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) was developed to test students in grades six through eight in subjects such as reading comprehension, spelling and mathematics. The purpose of these tests was to assess how well students were learning school subjects. The tests were very successful. By 1940, school districts throughout the nation were purchasing the tests to assess the learning of their students. The Iowa Test of Basic Skills continues to be one of the most important academic testing services in the country.  Educational researchers consider to be an important way to measure students' academic achievement. And they got their start in Iowa!


  • Margaret Atherton Bonney, Ed., “All Those Tests!,” The Goldfinch 2, no. 4 (September 1981): 12.


Learn about the history of tests in Iowa and how they influenced testing throughout the country.

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