In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic raised concerns about the quality of the SAT and ACT as effective assessments for college admissions. COVID-19 caused massive disruptions in the academic and personal lives of students across the country, and as a result, many universities waived their test requirements. While it could have come in better circumstances, this is a positive change.
We at Scroll believe that standardized testing is a poor method of evaluating knowledge and aptitude and should be phased out of the requirements for school acceptance.
Standardized testing dates back to the mid-1800s, but the use of testing in the U.S. rose in 2002. The No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2002 by President George W. Bush, aimed to improve the performance of students and made changes in school curriculum all over the United States. Those changes included more standardized testing.
The Encyclopedia Britannica’s website describes the effect No Child Left Behind had on standardized testing, stating, “Under the law, states were required to administer yearly tests of the reading and mathematics skills of public school students and to demonstrate adequate progress toward raising the scores of all students to a level defined as “proficient” or higher by 2014. Teachers were also required to meet higher standards for certification. Schools that failed to meet their goals would be subject to gradually increasing sanctions, eventually including replacement of staff or closure.”
Supporters of the law believed that this would motivate minority students to test higher, which it initially did. Those against the law expressed that there wasn’t enough funding to implement the law and give students the right material to achieve higher scores. Other critics believe that the law forced teachers to “teach to test.”
The enforcement of these tests created a problem where teachers had to meet the curriculum and schools had to test in order to stay afloat, leaving the students without test-taking skills to ironically fall behind.
The most apparent argument against standardized testing is its unreliability in predicting success. The primary purpose of a university is to prepare students for skilled careers – but there are no closed-book tests or multiple-choice booklets in the workforce.
These tests can evaluate a student’s knowledge of English or math, at best. What they fail to recognize is a student’s ability to think creatively, critically, be artistic, and much more.
It makes intuitive sense why tests don’t fully prepare one for the realities of a job, but it is surprising that test results don’t necessarily indicate success even at college. In a study published in January 2020, researchers found that a higher high school GPA was a much stronger predictor of college graduation than an ACT score.
While similar problems exist with GPA, the study results point to a larger problem: Standardized tests will never be totally holistic. Tests measure only a small part of a person’s accumulated skills and knowledge, but most of all the skill of taking tests.
A report from the Urban Institute states that “earning good grades requires consistent behaviors over time — showing up to class and participating, turning in assignments, taking quizzes, etc. — whereas students could, in theory, do well on a test even if they do not have the motivation and perseverance needed to achieve good grades. It seems likely that the kinds of habits high school grades capture are more relevant for success in college than a score from a single test.”
The report also shares that test scores have little effect on performance in college.
Standardized testing may only show what students are better prepared for when it comes to test-taking. A study shows that testing scores can be influenced by stress, hunger and tiredness. Skipping breakfast or having a bad day can determine a student’s acceptance into their dream college.
Research has shown that men significantly outperform women on multiple-choice questions and women outperform men on short-answer questions. Some believe this is because men are statistically more willing to guess than women.
Why, then, are such consistently biased tests upheld as accurate measures of intelligence? It is easy to see how putting too much faith into standardized tests can lead to dangerous assumptions. Measuring risk aversion isn’t a stated or implicit goal of a standard English exam, and it shouldn’t be.
The difference between male and female performance on multiple-choice vs short answer questions isn’t the only failure of standardized tests – intelligent but disadvantaged students also suffer from less access to test preparation materials, which are only growing more expensive year after year. The current standardized testing system does not allow for an even playing field for students.
According to the National Institutes of Health website, nearly one in three high school students will experience an anxiety disorder. These tests fail to account for students who are struggling with mental health.
Students might also have a better score if it’s affordable to do so. Students can retake the ACT or SAT to increase their scores, but this may only be an option for those who can afford to. Proper study materials, tutors and higher quality of schooling may also come easier to students who can afford them, giving them an advantage over other students.
It is clear these tests aren’t as “standardized” as they originally hoped, leaving poor or anxious test-takers, students who can’t afford the proper resources, and those who simply just had a bad day left with rejection letters.
What should standardized tests be replaced with? Nothing new is the answer. Schools already utilize a variety of more valuable admissions criteria, like personalized testing, essays, and GPA. Simply, too much weight is placed on standardized testing, and schools should place greater emphasis on the effective metrics they are already using.
With many universities phasing out standardized testing, it is time for all schools to get rid of this requirement for college acceptance. The tests are not effective and create a divide between students, whether that be gender, class, or other factors. To move forward and advance in education, we need to recognize that English, math and science are not the only career paths and therefore should not be a student’s measure in ability or intelligence.