Should standardized testing be optional?


Kiera McGee, Opinions Editor

More than 80 colleges and universities across the nation endorsed a report released on Jan. 20 that proposed drastic changes to the college admissions process. Shockingly, the report was sponsored by none other than the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a university that is considered to be one of the most prestigious institutions in the country.

The report suggested minimizing the role of standardized testing, placing more value on quality rather than quantity in regard to extracurricular activities, factoring in family and community responsibilities to better assess lower-­income applicants, focusing on public service that extends beyond two-week-long projects, and emphasizing the fact that sometimes the most “elite” universities are not actually the best fit for some students. The first clause of the report sent a shock wave through the academic community.

S, A, T⎼three simple letters that strike fear into the hearts of high school students across the country. The SAT is a standardized exam that is extensively used for college admission in the United States. Developed and administered by College Board, a private nonprofit organization, the SAT was introduced in 1926. The current version of the exam, which was released in 2005, takes three hours and 45 minutes to complete and offers a score range of 600 to 2400. In 2014, College Board announced that they would be redesigning the SAT to make it more flexible for students taking it in 2016 and beyond. The new test boasts a return to the 1600 point scale of our parents’ generation and an optional essay section.

Despite its historical reign over the college admissions process, the SAT has received harsh criticism over the years for many reasons. Students with learning disabilities often perform poorly on timed standardized tests, leading many critics to argue that such exams do not act as true measures of intelligence or academic capabilities. Similarly, students from low­-income families often score significantly lower on the SAT than wealthier students. This can be attributed to class-specific questions, such as the “oarsman-regatta analogy question” included in the original test. The students were to choose the word pair that related to each other in a fashion most similar to “runner” and “marathon.” The answer was “oarsman” and “regatta,” which presumed that the students would be familiar with the predominantly wealthy sport of rowing. As SAT preparation classes and textbooks have become more popular, critics have also argued that wealthier students have far more resources at their disposal to do well on the exam, furthering the score disparity.

While tests such as the SAT and the ACT definitely have their flaws, I do not think that making them optional will be beneficial for a wide range of students in the long run. Unfortunately, the strength of high school curriculums varies greatly in the United States. If a student at one school, for example, achieves a 4.0 grade point average, he or she will be far more appealing to universities than a student from a different school who only has a 3.2. But the student with the 4.0 may attend a high school with a far less challenging curriculum, giving him or her an unfair advantage over the 3.2 student. The SAT is the only practical method of equalizing such discrepancies and leveling the playing field amongst hundreds of thousands of high school students who are competing for spots at the same universities.

Despite my belief in the testing system, I fully sympathize with those who feel at a disadvantage. As a low-­income student myself, I admit that I found it difficult to prepare for the exam alongside my wealthier friends. While they were attending expensive prep classes, I only had a hand-­me-­down textbook to study from. However, I found many resources at the public library and on the Internet that ultimately helped me perform just as well as any other student. While studying for the SAT as a low-income student will require more time and effort, I know from personal experience that it is possible to do well on a budget. Similarly, I encourage students with learning disabilities to reach out to College Board and determine if they qualify for extra time or perhaps a single desk in an unoccupied room. Ultimately, I feel as though the advantages of standardized testing outweigh the drawbacks. I am interested in following the report as it evolves, especially with the new SAT being released this year.

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