Robert Schaeffer once said, “Standardized testing has become the arbiter of social mobility, yet there is more regulation of the food we feed our pets that of the tests we give our kids” (Schaeffer, 2014). Nearly every student takes the SAT or ACT in high school. Standardized tests are defined as “tests that are developed using standard procedures and are administered and scored in a consistent manner for all test takers” (Weaver, 2011). Standardized tests allow students taking the same test to be compared reliably and validly.
These test have become one of the primary deciding factors in admission decisions. They also determine whether a high school student can move on to the next grade level or graduate. These test are evaluated by colleges because it gives all intellectual students the opportunity to attend college, regardless of their educational background or financial situation. Although these tests seem to be unbiased, scholars such as James W. Popham and Tonya Moon seem to disagree. They argue that standardized tests are unreliable in measuring a student’s performance.
While a standardized test is a good way to quickly measure a student’s performance, it should not be the sole determination of a student’s academic success. A student’s socioeconomic status can have a huge impact on test scores. These test do not truly assess a student’s understanding of the various concepts and they place students and teachers under a lot of pressure to do well. Standardized test scores should not be focused entirely on in admission decisions, because a student’s socioeconomic status has a huge impact on their test scores. Those with a higher socioeconomic status usually achieve better scores. According to James Popham’s article, “Why Standardized Tests Don’t Measure Educational Quality”, “many items on standardized achievement tests really focus on assessing knowledge and/or skills learned outside of school-knowledge and/or skills more likely to be learned in some socioeconomic settings than in others” (Popham, 1999). Students from privileged families attend better educational institutions.
They are provided with more spacious classrooms, clean restroom, and healthier cafeterias. Unlike students in public schools, they are able to concentrate better in their school’s environment. Evidence of this is also shown in Alfie Kohn’s book, “The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools”. In the book he states that standardized test “cast public schools in the worst possible light as a way of paving the way for the privatization of education” (Kohn, 2000). Many people argue that these tests are meant to make public schools look bad. People believe that the lower scores seen from standardized test are produced by public school students, which is proven to be true. Those attending public school have limited resources. Therefore, they are learning different material than private schools. Although these test are meant to equally evaluate a student’s academic success, “research has repeatedly found that the amount of poverty in the communities where schools are located, along with other variables having nothing to do with what happens in classrooms, accounts for the great majority of the difference in test scores from one area to the next” (Kohn, 2000).
Students who have a lower socioeconomic status should not be expected to be tested on the same level as those with a higher socioeconomic status. Hence, it is not fair for colleges to equally evaluate students of different class, race, etc. when other factors, such as socioeconomic status, affect their scores. Another reason why standardized test should not be heavily considered, is that tests such as SAT and ACT do not truly assess a student’s understanding of the various concepts. These multiple choice tests usually only measure what a student knows and not what they understand. It does not test their ability to think critically and show reasoning. Alfie Kohn states that “These tests care only about whether the student got the right answer. To point this out is not to claim that there is no such thing as a right answer; it is to observe that right answers don’t necessarily signal understanding, and wrong answers don’t necessarily signal the absence of understanding” (Kohn, 2000).
This suggest that students are not able to come up with an answer on their own, because it is provided for them. These test leave a negative impact on students about learning. They are forced to concentrate on memorizing facts, instead of developing a deep understanding of the subject. These test only “measure how much students have managed to cram into short-term memory” (Kohn, 2000). Because of the importance of the result of standardized tests, teachers normally teach to the test. Assignments and test are usually in multiple choice format. It is noted that, “teaching to the test is completely different from providing good instruction and accessing it accurately” (Kohn, 2000). Students are only learning how to take standardized tests, instead of learning the skills needed for their future. For this reason, these multiple choice tests do not effectively assess student’s educational quality and should not be used as the deciding factor in college admissions.
Another issue of using standardized tests scores as a part of college admission is that it places students and teachers under a lot of pressure to do well. Today, there are many books and classes for the preparation of these tests. Students are stressed out by going through these books and attending these classes. In most cases, students sit these tests more than once. They become anxious and this leave a negative effect on the way they feel about school. The need to achieve a high score on these test stresses the students and puts pressure on them. However, not only the students feel this pressure. Teachers are held accountable for the scores of the students.
To improve these scores, teachers have resulted in teaching a more “drill and practice type of curriculum and instruction” (Moon, Brighton, Jarvis, & Hall, 2007). This act of constantly practicing the material has helped in memorization, however, it takes away the excitement and creativity in learning. In 2007, a study was conducted by Tonya Moon, Catherine Brighton, Jane Jarvis, and Catherine Hall, a group of scholars. In the study, students and teachers were questioned about their views on standardized tests and whether or not it causes pressure. As a result, it was proven that students and teachers feel a tremendous amount of pressure when preparing for standardized tests.
Richard Atkinson, president of University of California, asserts in his speech various ways in which students can be assessed during the admission process instead of standardized tests. In Rebecca Zwick’s book, Atkinson states we should use “standardized tests that have a demonstrable relationship to the specific subjects taught in high schools” (Atkinson 2004). With these tests, students can be accurately measured by how well they are doing in school and not on how much time they spent preparing. Atkinson also suggests that we should consider grades and scores as well as “what students have made of their opportunities to learn, the obstacles they have overcome, and the special talents they possess” (Atkinson 2004) Students should be allowed into college not because they scored high on the Sat or Act, but because of other credentials.
If colleges stop using these standardized test to determine one’s academic success, students will become more focused on school than on the preparation for these test. These test takes focus away from actually learning in school. Standardized test should not be the sole determination of a student’s academic success. A student’s socioeconomic status influences the test scores and can leave them at a disadvantage. These test do not truly assess a student’s understanding of the various concepts and they place students and teachers under a lot of pressure to do well. Colleges should revaluate the admission process. The issue left to be dealt with now is how these tests can be made more effective in measuring students.
Atkinson, R.C. (2004). Achievement versus aptitude in college admissions. In R. Zwick (Ed.), Rethinking the SAT: The Future of Standardized Testing in University Admissions. Retrieved November 5, 2014, from http://books.google.bs/books?id=7QhG8g-y22wC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=richard%20atkinson&f=false. Kohn, A. (2000) The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Moon, T. R., Brighton, C. M., Jarvis, J. M., & Hall, C. J. (2007). State Standardized Testing Programs: Their Effects on Teachers and Students. Storrs, CT: The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut. Popham J. W. (1999). Why Standardized Tests Don’t Measure Educational Quality. Educational Leadership, 56. Retrieved November 5, 2014, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/Why-Standardized-Tests-Dont-Measure-Educational-Quality.aspx Schaeffer, R. (2014, October 1). Robert Schaeffer quotes. Retrieved Novemeber 30, 2014, from Think Exist: http://thinkexist.com/quotes/robert_schaeffer/ Weaver, K. (2011). Standardized Testing Measuring the Academic Success of Students.