By Nicole LoRusso, Editor-in-Chief
Standardized testing has become an essential part of students’ lives nationally. SAT and ACT tests are a mandatory part of the college process for a majority of schools. These tests, which date back to the 1920s and 1950s respectively, have been designed and redesigned in an effort to ensure that they depict students’ knowledge and critical thinking skills. They also allow for a general understanding of where a student lies intellectually in comparison to her peers and across the world.
Despite the fact that well over a million high school students still take these admissions tests every year, there has been a recent surge in colleges becoming “test-optional,” which means they don’t require applicants to submit their tests scores, with a total of about 850 “test-optional” colleges to date. While the reasons that colleges choose to become “test optional” vary, many high school students are in favor of this policy, as they feel that standardized tests do not represent their knowledge accurately, claiming that they don’t “test well.” But aside from not knowing exactly what material will be on a standardized test, there should be no differentiation between school tests and standardized tests, as both are valid indicators of a student’s academic abilities and skills.
At New York University’s Steinhardt’s “Education Policy Breakfast” in February 2014, which focused on the benefits and consequences of testing, Howard Wainer, a notable research scientist at the Board of National Medical Examiners and the Educational Testing Service, spoke on his study of testing. Wainer asked, “Tests certainly have all sorts of problems, but compared to what?”
Wainer presented the results of a study he completed using data from an array of highly-ranked schools from the 1999 applicants. “As it turns out in terms of performance at Bowdoin, the kids who didn’t submit their SAT scores did worse [in their first year] than those who did..So whatever they are using to admit these kids, isn’t compensating for [the lack of test results].”
Wainer then gathered the scores of the students that were admitted, but did not submit test scores to see where they fell in relation to those who did. “It turns out that they did have a standard deviation worse than the kids who did submit them. It turns out that you could have predicted their performance at Bowdoin better than the students that submitted them,” Wainer said.
Despite the controversy surrounding standardized testing, they have proven to be accurate representations of students’ academic capabilities in colleges. Students may be able to get into a school based on their grades, extracurriculars or other talents without receiving the esteemed test score for that school. This option provides a cover up for a flaw in a student’s academic capacity. Although she may be accepted based on other merits, she will struggle to do as well as a student who received the score that a particular college deems will ensure success at that institution, as proven by Wainer’s research.
Without these tests, college admissions departments are lacking one of the tools that has always been a vital component in deciding a student’s academic capabilities. Because the students do not know the exact topics or questions on a standardized test, the exam accurately assesses a student’s critical and analytical thinking skills. The ACTs and SATs show a baseline of a student’s knowledge of concepts that they should be familiar with as a junior or senior in high school.
As a junior I can attest that these standardized college admissions tests can be stressful for students; however, they are not responsible for all of the stress on students during the college process, and they are not without merit. The tests are an effective way for college admissions offices to rule out the students that would have a difficult time in their schools due to a lack of necessary skills and prior knowledge and to admit students who will be successful at their school. Though every high school student dreads taking these challenging tests that seem so critical in deciding our future, they are necessary tools in helping us pick the best path for our future success.