Opinion of the Staff: Standardized Tests Need a Change

As one enters high school, there are many fears that cross the mind. Will I have a good experience? Will I take the best classes? Will I get the right grades to go to the college of my choice? Should I take the SAT or ACT? Tests such as the ACT and SAT are more prominent than ever in today’s society. They seem more like a rite of passage to becoming an adult than just a standardized test. There is no question that standardized tests are important to students, but whether these tests are an appropriate way to measure student intelligence and preparedness for college is questionable.

Standardized tests like the ACT and SAT are written in a strictly multiple choice format, so creativity and deep thinking are limited. Multiple choice tests make it difficult to differentiate between a strong and thoughtful student, or a student that is simply a decent test taker. Children who work at a fast pace and are somewhat competent can get better grades than the more methodical, but very intelligent student. This can be seen on many different tip websites that advertise to simply skim the passages during the English section and skip to the questions. The bottom line is that a simple number score on a standardized test doesn’t tell the whole story of how ready a student is for college. With the strong emphasis colleges are placing on standardized tests nowadays, there needs to be another way to more accurately judge a student’s academic abilities.

Another aspect of standardized tests that is troubling is that they were not constructed with fairness in mind. Students who are wealthier will often receive better scores than students who are poor. A study done by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that the gap for achievement test scores between rich and poor has grown by almost 60% since the 1960s, and are now almost twice as large as the gap between white students and students of other races. The reason behind this is that the best way to achieve a sublime score on a standardized test is to prepare using personal tutors, group prep courses, and classes geared towards test taking in school. These options are very expensive or not even offered in poorer school districts. Because of this, it puts the lower class at a disadvantage right from the get-go. There are poverty-stricken students who have great potential and intellectual ability that are unable to perform adequately on standardized tests because of their financial conditions, and this is just unacceptable for a test with the magnitude of the SAT or the ACT.

Even with the many negatives of the options for taking standardized tests, there does not seem to be another valid alternative. The tests make the comparison between domestic and foreign students’ intelligence levels much easier by giving colleges a ballpark estimate of competence and college readiness. Also, the exams act as a common denominator between all students’ applications as it is a nationally given exam that all students complete.  A need for this exam definitely exists. However, the exam options themselves need to be modified to be able to accommodate everyone.

A possible solution to the inequality of standardized tests would be to make the test have free response questions. The addition of open ended questions would allow students to more accurately demonstrate their intelligence as they are not just filling out multiple choice bubbles. With this revision to the current format, more time would be needed for each test section, thus taking away the stressful time constraints for poor test takers and putting everyone on a more equal playing field.

Standardized tests are given too much importance in today’s society considering they are an inaccurate measure of a student’s capabilities. This is unacceptable and change is clearly necessary. These revisions to the current model need to be made sooner rather than later as the college process is more competitive now than it has ever been. If changes are not made, the college process will continue to be unfair.