Standardized Testing: Necessary?

In the global academic sphere, one term is sure to elicit apprehension and dread in the minds of students: “standardized testing.” Taking up differ- ent forms in different countries but maintaining the same basic structure, these tests often play a major role in or are even the sole criterion for higher education admittance. From the Chinese Gao Kao (literally meaning “High Test”) to the American SAT (the acronym currently has no meaning), a single multi-digit score could be the factor that either en-ables a student to enroll in their dream school or gets that student rejected.

First conceived 2,000 years ago during the Han Dynasty in Ancient China, standardized testswere used as an indicator of bureaucratic competence among potential government officers, who vied for coveted positions subordinate to the emperor. As time progressed to the modern

era, these tests have spread well beyond China, as universities around the world have placed heavy importance on them, using the tests as a means of narrowing down the applicant pool.

The main benefit of standardized testing is discerned from the very name itself. Given that these tests, specifically the SAT and the ACT (American College Test) in the U.S., are standardized examinations taken by all students nationally, they serve as a better measure of comparison than grade point average (GPA). Each high schools’ GPA system is unique, and thus, GPAs can be quite variable on a school-to- school basis. What ensues is possible inflation, as a 4.5 at one school may be easier to obtain than a 4.5 at another. With standardized tests, there is no worry of false equivalency, as the knowledge required to obtain a certain score is the same regardless of which school students attend.

Proponents of solely GPA argue that standardized tests do not reflect a student’s work ethic accurately because the scores are dependent on 3-4 hours of testing and not 3-4 years of schooling. The flaw in this argument is that it is fixated with the test instead of the preparation; students will spend months, and often years (Chinese students typically spend several years preparing for the Gao Kao exam), studying. Additionally, schools often do not provide classes that are specific to standardized tests, and thus, high scores can reflect a student’s willingness to continue to study well after their school textbooks have been put to rest for the night. Colleges can, therefore, better gauge a student’s work ethic if they consider standardized tests.

Despite advantages, the most compelling point in support of lessening standardized testing’s importance is that its use has been empirically proven to be unnecessary, even harmful. In a 20 year-long study led by the former Dean of Admissions for Bates College, William Hiss, grad- uation rates and academic achievement were compared across all 7,000 Bates College students who either submitted or did not submit an SAT/ACT score (Bates College has a test-optional admittance policy). The study discovered that, after admittance, the group of students whosubmitted test scores had an average cumulative GPA at Bates College of 3.11, while those who did not had a cumulative GPA of 3.06. The difference is a mere, and arguably statistically irrelevant, five-hundredths of a single GPA point. These results corroborate the claim that colleges do not necessarily need SATs or ACTs, as GPA is already a compelling, stand-alone indicator of future academic success.

In the context of the study, considering standardized test scores is not only superfluous. When considering solely those students who submit- ted a score, “[students] with good grades and modest testing did better at Bates College than students with higher testing and lower high school grades” (PBS News Hour). In this instance, considering standardized test scores can be counterproductive towards a college’s aim of admitting higher-achieving students.

These findings, in addition to those of other studies, may be the reasoning behind the recent test-optional shift embraced by an increasing num-ber of universities, including Bates College, Bowdoin College, New York University and the University of Chicago.

Despite the well-backed claims of the study, it still can be argued that there are methodological weaknesses, as it covers only one college belong-ing to only one range of characteristics; these factors may have biased the results in ways not yet realized.

Consideration of standardized testing, similarly to how the tests are viewed as a gateway to some and a bane to others, has the same contrast regarding its perceived effectiveness: there are both valid reasons for and against such consideration by universities. Despite the continuous debate, consideration should ultimately come down to whether or not a university feels standardized test scores enhance their admissions process.

Nicholas Okazaki / Co-editor in chief

Image Courtesy of CNN

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