The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
The MCAT. The SAT. The GRE. The ACT. There’s one thing that all of these acronyms have in common. They are standardized tests. While the tests listed above are some of the more mainstream standardized tests, individual states also have their own examinations that gauge student success. In other words, standardized testing is a widespread occurrence and in many cases is mandatory for students to complete.
The idea behind standardized testing began back in 1838. Pre-civil war evaluations consisted of mandatory written exams. Then, in the fall of 1920, every high school junior’s nightmare became a reality, with the widespread implementation of pre-college entrance exams. Interestingly, in the late 1920s, support for mandatory standardized testing began to waiver. Unfortunately, the advent of early computer technology revamped standardized testing practices. And, since 1958, these tests have remained essentially the same. Yep, you read that right. Kids today are essentially taking the same exam as their parents and grandparents, despite major technological developments and research regarding the theories of standardized testing.
Implementation of wide spread standardized testing was used as a way to identify how student bodies were performing following the advent of compulsory education in the United States. They were designed “not to measure achievement but ability.” The original intention behind testing was, initially, quite pure. The SAT, for example, was designed to provide opportunities for all people to be able to get into a wide variety of colleges. Sounds great, right? Yet, this original mission statement of simply assessing student ability has been abandoned within our current society and convoluted higher education admissions processes.
To begin, performance and achievement on standardized tests has been highly correlated to a student’s socio-economic status. There are several known reasons for this including at home learning discrepancies. For example, “field of work” questions, like those based around law and medicine, directly benefit the students whose parents follow that specific career, generally those in upper classes.
Environmental factors are also major contributors to overall test performance. These circumstances can include anything from lighting, air quality, overall comfort, a feeling of safety, etc., all of which can dramatically affect a student’s ability. Generally, areas of low socioeconomic standing have poorer environmental conditions, which can even be seen here in Salt Lake City through a brief glance at AQ and U’s air quality sensors. Because of this, students in these areas are already being set up to perform poorly. So much for “standardization.”
The affordability of taking standardized tests also remains a barrier, despite attempts at fee reductions. A brief summary of the cost of taking standardized tests in 2022 are as follows:
These baseline fees do not even take into consideration preparatory courses, the very real possibility that an individual will have to retake the exam to improve their score, specific university required subject tests, testing materials, and the list goes on. It’s clear to see just how expensive these required tests can become. And particularly for graduate level entrance exams, these costs are ones that students have to pay on top of already expensive tuition, ones in which they are unlikely to be able to feasibly afford.
Additionally, the ability to pay for preparatory courses and the opportunity to retake the exam creates an inherent bias and predisposes affluent students to perform better. Not to mention there are even fees to send these mandatory exams to certain universities which creates another financial impediment for students.
Socioeconomic and race impacts are further exacerbated when the data analyzing the testing distributions between white and non-white test takers. Even the College Board, a staple testing institution in the United States, has identified that “Black and brown students score lower on both the SAT and AP exams than do whites.”
To make matters worse, standardized testing is a monopoly in America. One needs to look no further than the College Board. They handle a large chunk of college admissions examinations in the United States whether that be the SAT or AP exams. While supposedly a non-profit, the company states more than “$1 billion in annual revenue and $100 million in untaxed surplus.” Additionally, it has $400 million invested with hedge funds and private equity, and its chief executive makes more than $2 million a year, according to an investigation done by Forbes.
While in some ways standardized testing is a beneficial way to evaluate student performance across large sample sizes, there are several issues regarding how standardized testing is approached in this day and age. The relevancy of this kind of testing needs to be reassessed. As stated by an admissions counselor at the University of Utah Physical Therapy School, GRE scores do not accurately predict program success, and hence have abolished the testing requirement, as seen from their current admissions guidelines. More schools need to adopt these principles and focus on other application attributes that speak to who a person is, not simply a number on a paper.
Going forward, the almost 200 year old institution of standardized testing needs to be re-evaluated. Is there a truly just way to standardly assess student learning? And if so, should we even be trying to do it? Innovation rarely comes from thinking inside the confined societal norms, yet the phenomenon of standardized testing is such that it rewards students for thinking standardly. In a constantly evolving world, why are we awarding people for thinking in the same way as someone else, why is that applauded?
These questions remain largely unanswered, yet there is certainly a more fair, equitable solution to be found regarding any and all forms of standardized testing whether it be state-instituted or mandated by higher-education centers across the United States.