To Test or Not To Test?

by Erin Dennehy
Class of 2015

Standardized tests. Many colleges swear by these exams, using them as tools for predicting and quantifying a student’s abilities and success in the admissions process. This argument, however, is a falsehood that deceives millions of Americans, swindling students and parents of hundreds—even thousands—of dollars each year. Not only are standardized tests outrageously expensive, but they also provide an inaccurate account of a student’s intelligence, and many states see little to no improvement in academic performance. As a result, students waste valuable time, effort, and money towards a score that does not—and cannot—accurately define them, causing nothing but stress and temporary improvement.

As stated on the College Board website, the SATs are utilized by virtually all American colleges and universities to determine the academic capabilities of incoming college freshman. In fact, over 2,000,000 students from across the country took the SAT exam last year, as recorded by Lynn O’Shaughnessy from wealthmanagement.com. In addition to these time consuming exams, most students also take SAT subject tests, Advanced Placement tests, and the ACT exam by the time they graduate.

These standardized test options are inaccurate, regardless of the skill level and capabilities of the test taker. When a student’s future relies heavily on their performance on a timed three hour exam, many students may be influenced by extreme stress and anxiety, deleteriously affecting their test results (Procon.org). For example, Gregory J. Cizek from Procon.org recalls anecdotes that “[illustrate] how testing… produces gripping anxiety in even the brightest students,” in some cases causing crying, vomiting, and insecurity. Moreover, exams like the SAT focus on only a small portion of one’s education, with English, writing, and mathematics as the main test subjects. Do oversimplified understandings of these concepts truly ensure a student’s academic success after high school? By limiting the exam to three or four subjects, test-makers blatantly ignore other essential qualities that college bound students need (and may already possess) such as creativity, perseverance, and motivation (Procon.org). Even social studies are ignored, rendering any student gifted in these areas at a disadvantage, for they will not have an opportunity to display these skills on test day. Thus, exams like the SATs create a one-sided approach to learning that espouses the values of simplicity and regurgitation, hampering the skills and capabilities of many with its limited testing material and time requirements. We boast of our improved education system and high academic standards, and yet we use standardized tests to streamline and oversimplify education, defining students by a senseless array of mocking dots and tedious, ambiguous numbers.

In addition to presenting an inaccurate description of a one’s capabilities, standardized tests place a financial strain on students and parents alike. Since most colleges require the SAT and at least two SAT subject tests, the average student would be forced to pay (at minimum) $94, assuming that the student plans to take each exam only once and doesn’t apply late (for costs escalate to $80 an exam a month before the test date). The vast majority of test takers, however, take the SAT at least two times before graduation, as cited by the College Board itself. In that time, the College Board notes that over 35% of students experienced drops in scores, while another 10% saw no improvement whatsoever. Even those who improved only raised their score by an average of 40 points, which, on a 2400 point scale, is miniscule. It also puts lower-income students at a disadvantage, especially when wealthier students can hire tutors at a minimum of $195 an hour. Therefore, with average costs amounting to $150 or more, the SATs are expensive, cheating students who see little to no academic improvement.

What America needs is a taste of reality. Rather than promoting a test that streamlines education by eliminating a subject’s inherent complexity, colleges should instead focus on an applicant’s four year transcript, defining them by their long-term academic performance and skills. More than 800 schools have already become test blind according to fairtest.org. Furthermore, essays should be more highly valued, allowing a student to illustrate any additional skills and qualities not displayed on their transcript. This presents a student accurately and complexly, avoiding the dehumanizing and often misleading results of standardized testing.

Erin Dennehy is a student in Advanced Placement English Language and Composition