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As a college bound high school senior, I was advised to take a standardized test called the Scholastic Assessment Test, or the SAT. The SAT is a three hour and forty-five minute test designed to predict whether or not a student will succeed in college. It assesses test-takers abilities in three subjects: math, critical reading, and writing. This standardized test was extremely difficult for me to take—not because the material was too complex, but because of the emotional, physical, and psychological affect that the testing environment had on me.
I have been clinically diagnosed with several types of anxiety. I am an intelligent student, but I do not feel my SAT scores are an accurate representation of that. The SAT, along with the ACT, are tests that are administered and scored in the same way for every individual student. While this may seem like a sensible way to make testing fair, doing so does not acknowledge students differences. Because of the variance in students’ circumstances, environments, culture, levels of education, disorders, and disabilities, standardized tests cannot accurately, nor fairly, assess how ready a student is for college.
On test day, every student across the United States wakes up and undergoes circumstances that are unique to each and every one of them. The weather, family issues, illness, and food intake may impact students in both positive and negative ways. A few students will inevitably be dealing with some kind of home or family problem. Divorce, bankruptcy, or the death of a friend or family member can be extremely distracting, thought-consuming events.
If a student is dealing with an extreme issue like one of those, their mind will simply not be able to completely focus on the task at hand. Yet, smaller problems and events may still affect test performance as well. Stephanie Imig, a high school English teacher at Oregon Connections Academy, an online public school, says, “Our brain activity is definitely affected by everyday circumstances such as weather, illness, and food intake, and when you are in a situation where you have to respond quickly, they can greatly affect your performance” (Imig). The SAT requires students to respond quickly and accurately in order to achieve a high score, but if brain activity has been affected by certain events, scores may be significantly lower than they would have been had those events not occurred.
Studying for standardized tests is something many students simply do not have time for, but it is something that can impact scores. Obviously students who are able to put in the time to study and prepare for an exam like the SAT are likely to do better than those that do not. Gruber’s Complete Preparation for the New SAT is a book that is very popular with students that are practicing their SAT skills. The table of contents listed things such as vocabulary building, “Diagnostic SAT Pre-Test,” a “Strategy Diagnostic Test,” and several more practice tests (Gruber). The book itself is over a thousand pages. That many pages of SAT preparation has the ability to increase a student’s score by quite a large number. This indicates that students that have access to SAT preparation books such as Gruber’s Complete Preparation for the New SAT would have an advantage over students that do not have the same access.
There have been several studies that suggest the SAT contains culturally biased questions. Students that were raised in the inner cities, for example, statistically do not receive test scores as high as those that are white and middle class. In an article by discussing many new studies about the SAT’s racial bias, Scott Jaschik states, “The average score on the reading part of the SAT was 429 for black students last year — 99 points behind the average for white students” (Jaschik “New”). This is most likely because the test is designed for a specific dialect and culture. If dialect and culture was the same all across the board then the SAT might be more fair, but this is not the case. Although the SAT officials are trying very hard to eliminate the bias, there are just too many different cultures and dialects for it to be impossible for the test to equally cater to all of them.
People in different areas do not all speak or phrase things in the same way, including teachers. There are so many variations in teaching and in learning across the United States, that it is not possible for one test to identify every single one of them. In an article in Education Week magazine, Cate Dosetti, a teacher at Friso High School, poses a good question when she asks, “How can you get critical thinking into a bubble?” (qtd. in Rebora). Critical thinking cannot be restricted by a bubble, because knowledge is simply not a multiple-choice question. Just the same, college readiness cannot be restricted by a multiple-choice test. This is why admissions offices look at class grades, rigor of high school curriculum, extracurricular activities, and many other factors.
Information is surfacing that the ACT, one of the most utilized standardized tests, is not as accurate, nor as predictive, as the ACT officials believe. An article on Inside Higher Ed by Scott Jaschik reports that, “A new study has found that two of the four main parts of the ACT— science and reading— have ‘little or no’ ability to help colleges predict whether applicants will succeed” (Jaschik “ACT”). Although there is a correlation between college success and the other two sections of the test, colleges tend to look at the total ACT score rather than the individual subject scores. Because of this new information, the conductors of the study have begun questioning just how valid the ACT actually is. While ACT officials have stood by the test’s validity, further studies are taking place.
A major injustice of standardized testing is that students who are suffering from certain disorders or that have certain learning disabilities are at a disadvantage. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, depression, dyslexia, and different types of anxiety are just a few conditions that can make taking the test feel unbearable and even impossible. Test anxiety is one disorder in particular that has become a common issue among teenagers and college students today. It can cause a person to become unreasonably stressed, distracted, and even hopeless, in addition to causing physical symptoms of illness. When describing the physical symptoms that can be brought on by test anxiety, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America included “headache, nausea, diarrhea, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, light-headedness, and feeling faint” (“Test Anxiety”). It can feel impossible to do well on a test, let alone manage to complete it all, while experiencing these physical and emotional symptoms. Anxiety is more prevalent in students today than most people realize. FOCUS: Journal for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine says it is “estimated that 25% of college students have performance debilitating test anxiety” (McCleaster). This, however, does not necessarily have a significant impact on overall future performance in college. It is possible, and even likely, that students will learn how to cope with their impairments, or find strategies to overcome them, by the time they reach college.
Students may learn to overcome some disorders such as ADHD with age and maturity, there are many ways for students with other disabilities and disorders to also succeed in college. Carolyn Ramey, a counselor at Seaside High School explains one reason college success is different from high school success: “You’re just stuck with the public high school you have, but when it comes to college you can interview colleges and find out which ones are going to work” (Ramey). Students have the opportunity to be successful in college by choosing a school that can meet their needs. The disability departments of colleges may differ in how active they are. Some schools may simply inform a student’s professors of their disorder or disability, while others may take further action to assist the student succeed. Choosing the right school has the ability to impact a student’s success. Different colleges also possess different levels of learning. A student may choose to spend a year or two at a community college, giving them time to adapt to a college curriculum. Students could then transfer to as larger school with some college experience under their belt. Additionally, students are able to choose how much work they feel they are capable of taking on in college. Students may choose to take only a couple of classes during a single term if that is all they feel they can handle.
Lawrence Galizio, president of Clatsop Community College, knows first hand what it takes to succeed in college:
The factors influencing a student’s ability to succeed in college are multiple. Performance on a single exam may provide some predictive value concerning the students’ likelihood in understanding certain concepts or performing particular intellectual tasks, however it cannot capture nor predict the myriad of other elements influencing college performance. (Galizio)
There are many other factors that come into play when assessing how “college ready” students are. Although the test does allow colleges to make educated guesses on how well students may perform at a university, it is unable to take other factors into account. One test score simply is not capable of representing all the elements that can impact performance in college.
Today, colleges look at many different areas when deciding whether or not to accept a student. College Board provides information about which factors are most important when applying to different colleges. Grade point average and the rigor of a student’s secondary school record are generally considered more important than standardized test results. For example, the University of Oregon ranks GPA and rigor of secondary curriculum as most important, while standardized test scores are ranked as the third most important factor (“University”). There are, however, are situations in which SAT scores become more important than usual. For example, there are schools like Seaside High School that are not able to offer an abundance of AP and higher-level classes. Students that attend schools in this situation may feel it is necessary to receive extraordinary scores on the SAT in order to make up for the lack of difficulty in their secondary school record. This may also be the case for students with lower GPAs. It is possible for students to have a lower GPA due to major events that could have occurred during the school year (death of a family member, divorce, bankruptcy, etc). This too causes standardized test scores to become more important than they should be.
Universities benefit from the SAT because it provides their admissions committees with a simple way to compare potential students. Most universities compare SAT scores merely because it has become an expectation for college bound high school graduates to take the SAT. However, setting students’ SAT scores against each other is not the only option colleges have. An example of a different approach is Hofstra University. Hofsta Provost, and Senior Vice President, Herman Berliner was interviewed for an article in Long Island Business News about Hofstra University’s acceptance process. “‘We say to potential students, ‘Present yourself in the best light,’ Berliner said. ‘If that includes SAT scores, we tell students to send them in, and we’ll consider them along with the other criteria” (qtd in “Sitting”). Rather than making the SAT one of the most important factors that they consider, Hofstra University allows applicants to choose whether or not they want to submit their scores. An article in Mothering magazine suggests yet another admissions alternative. “One common method of observing a student’s progress without assigning a test score is the use of portfolios” (Wetzel). Having students prepare individual portfolios filled with a variety of different assignments, essays, and other projects would allow admissions committees to see what the students feel are their strengths, while removing them from the stressful environment presented by the SAT.
Numerous factors refute the reliability of the SAT. Everyday circumstances like the weather, illness, and food intake, as well as more extreme events such as divorce, bankruptcy, or loss of a friend or family member, can have a negative impact on brain activity. These circumstances and events can severely inhibit students’ ability to focus while they are taking a test. Learning disabilities and disorders such as anxiety, depression, dyslexia, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may cause students to perform poorly on the SAT, at a job, or in college, but they may develop strategies to overcome these issues. There are too many different dialects, cultures, and learning styles for the test to be able to fairly cater to all of them. Because of all of these problems, the Scholastic Assessment Test is not able to reflect students’ abilities in an accurate way. Therefore, it is unfair for the SAT to be one of the most important factors considered for college acceptance.
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