By Aidan Judge
Almost every student across the United States is required to take a standardized test, regardless of age and grade level. Frequently, standardized testing involves lengthy, multi-step exams that test students’ knowledge on certain subject areas, such as math, english and science. When students reach high school level, a majority of colleges and universities require students to both take the tests, and report their scores on their applications. Naturally, a lot of these exams can be stress-inducing and intimidating to students, regardless of the academic level that they work at.
Standardized testing, as great of a concept as it may be on paper, is simply broken. Students who perform extremely well academically oftentimes find themselves with mediocre scores on standardized tests, limiting their chances to be accepted into schools with lower rates, as qualified as they may be. The system is broken on many levels- Some as simple as the tests being too difficult, and other times being engrained in more pressing issues, like racial bias. However, there is still an overwhelming amount of flaws with standardized testing that needs to be addressed, changed, and made into an example for future education systems.
Standardized testing is also becoming less about measuring academic intelligence, and more so focused on the student’s ability to master the skills it takes to do well on standardized tests. If a student gets a 1500 on their SAT, it’s likely not because of their intelligence, but more likely related to the fact that they have done endless SAT preparation to master anything that the exam may throw at them. According to the article “Standardized Testing By The Numbers” on pbs.org, the College Board states (the organization that administers the SAT), the SAT “does not measure innate ability” and that students who read and study frequently are more likely to do well on the test.
However, even though standardized testing no longer focuses on measuring natural intelligence and academic ability, schools still go to great lengths in order to get their scores higher so they look more impressive on a national scale. One Florida school even goes as far as feeding their students a certain supplement in order to see improved scores on the exams. According to VOX.com’s “5 Things You Should Know About Standardized Testing”, “A Florida elementary school gave students three tablespoons of Mountain Dew and some trail mix before state standardized tests for years…and the principal said research found those particular foods helped lift students’ scores.” This particular school district prioritizes standardized testing that it caffeinates their elementary school students in their attempt to get good test scores. Is there a line that can’t be crossed anymore?
Lots of schools and programs will argue that standardized testing is one of the best and most efficient ways to gage a student’s intelligence level, and in turn use the scores to divulge if a student has enough academic prowess to move on to another grade, or even be accepted into a certain university. However, a number should not determine a student’s future. Some students are naturally good test-takers, and work exceptionally well under pressure. Other students, although talented and gifted in school, often find themselves struggling to even pass these so-called accurate assessments. A student’s worth and decision if they will get into a certain school should be based on a holistic scale. Extra curriculars, moments of recognition, character, should all be the focus of an application or deciding if a student moves on, not a number that they have to work ridiculously hard to receive.
Standardized testing also has another issue that needs to be addressed- racial and cultural bias. Although it may seem like a standardized test wouldn’t likely have a bias against BIPOC students, the reality is actually quite the opposite. According to “How to Address Racial Bias in Standardized Testing” from NextGenLearning.org, the fear of stereotyping and racial profiling can contirbute to a BIPOC student’s anxiety and comfortability level on testing days, leading to lower scores. “The fear of confirming a stereotype of inferiority creates stress and anxiety that contributes to poor test performance,” says Young Whan Choi, author of “How to Address Racial Bias in Standardized Testing.”
Even the questions on the test can sometimes provide a racial bias that is unfair to BIPOC students. According to NextGenLearning.org, test questions are often made to reflect the knowledge of middle-class white students, and put BIPOC kids at a disadvantage with subject areas they might not be aware of due to their socioeconomic status. Choi recalls a time where he felt this disadvantage in “How to Address Racial Bias in Standardized Testing,” stating, “Many of my students, nearly all of whom qualified for free and reduced lunch, were not familiar with the idea of a ‘key to the city.’” On a more local level, just last year in 2019, a standardized test in Massachusetts (MCAS) received backlash for a racist prompt which asked students to envision themselves as a slave owner and write a story from the perspective of one. The prompt was ultimately discarded from student scores, but it goes to show that there is a lot of prevalent racial bias that will affect the scores of BIPOC students.
Major schools that require SAT, ACT, and other standardized tests often use the guise of their “prestigious nature” as a means of why they require the scores, even though they end up being used as an instant yes or instant no of whether or not the student will be allowed to attend. Especially given the current pandemic, why are scores still being required in the first place? If anything, COVID-19 should give perspective to universities that the system is fundamentally flawed, and that admission should be based on other factors rather than a test score.
As standardized testing continues throughout the United States, it brings a lot of complicated issues to the table. Whether it be the tests not actually measuring intelligence, racial bias on exam questions, or schools weaponizing their “prestigious natures” as a means of requiring scores, there is a lot of work to be done with modern standardized testing. Although the concept of standardized testing is fundamentally good and should be an accurate measure of intelligence as well as academic skill, it seems that is no longer the case.So if any universities, school districts, or other educational institutions are reading this, I ask you an important question: Are you judging your students based on their entire school experience, or just on one moment?