Standardized testing has become one of the most influential predictors of a student’s future in many parts of the world. At the same time, it is one of the most discussed aspects in the field of education. Should they be abolished? What are the mental health effects of standardized tests? The opinions on this controversial topic vary, and decisions made by universities today clearly have the power to completely change the world of post-secondary education forever.
If a high school student chooses to pursue a post-secondary education, especially when applying to schools in the United States, tests like the SAT play a great deal in their chances of acceptance. According to Harvard University’s website, they have an average acceptance rate of about 4.6%. Applicants who score less than 1400 out of the 1600 total points, “wouldn’t be a competitive candidate” according to Capexx, a pathways research website.
Standardized testing is used all over the world as a way to measure the intellectual prowess of students. With competitive applicants at each school, standardized testing provides schools with numerical information about each student. The way that the tests are designed varies from place to place, but the fundamental concept is to test students using core concepts that were taught in the past. This system of testing can be unfair to many students when it comes to accessibility. “Some kids cannot afford to get a study guide or a tutor to help prepare. This poses many inequalities and can probably affect test outcomes,” says Ryann, a grade 8 student in the TDSB (Toronto District School Board) who took the SSATs this year. “This could severely widen the gap,” she added. It is proven by many sources that having financial access to additional support for preparing for a standardized test can increase your chances of doing well. One example of this is the process of superscoring. Superscoring is the process where college admissions staff look at students’ combined SAT scores, if the student took the test twice. For instance if you scored 700 in math the first time and then scored 600 on the second attempt- your superscore would be 1300. According to Us News, taking the SAT’s costs money and for those who are not financially well off, superscoring might not be an opportunity they can take advantage of.
A new Netflix documentary titled Operation Varsity Blues dives deeper into one of the biggest fraud cases in U.S. university history. Lori Loughlin, from Full House, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, took advantage of their financial privilege to bribe schools to admit their children. Despite this situation being illegal, it is a prime example of how financial freedom can give you an edge in an environment that should be based solely on merit.
In the United States, students’ SAT scores largely impact which universities will admit them. In the Netherlands, standardized testing begins as early as 4th grade and determines which high schools students can enter. Standardized testing makes it difficult for some students to pursue their interests if they have a different way of expressing their intellectual abilities or problem-solving skills. “These tests don’t show who you really are,” says Ryann. “They make you feel like you are your score when really in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t make a huge difference in your life.”
Standardized testing rewards students for having a good long-term memory, and often does not acknowledge creativity or hard work. As well, not all people are built to do well on tests, including many with independent education plans. Students who struggle to do well on tests because of anxiety or poor long-term memory can start thinking of themselves as unintelligent. “These tests are not designed to measure a student’s overall brilliance, and what we really should do is look at the big picture,” Ryann adds.
Ryann shared her personal experience applying to a Toronto Private school in which an interview was an integral part of the admissions process, counting for about 50%. Kareena, a grade 9 student from the Peel District School Board, and Muskan, a grade 10 student from Arkansas, United States, agreed that educators and allies need to find better, more efficient ways to measure students’ potential.
Moreover, test anxiety can alter one’s success on standardized tests. According to an article published by one of the biggest tutoring companies in the world, Oxford Learning, over 10.8 million students across North America suffer from anxiety. Anyone can suffer from test anxiety; from some of the highest achieving students to those who are the least prepared. Kareena spoke about her experience in grade 6 when she felt “scared [before a test], and a sense that maybe [she] didn’t know everything [she] needed to.” She described her classroom, a place she normally enjoyed, becoming a space of pressure and stress. “If people don’t have a suitable work environment it will be harder to take and perform well on tests,” she explained. She also related this to the barriers some students may face when it comes to preparing for the test. “I am very fortunate to have a great workspace to complete school and study for tests. I believe that families and people that are less fortunate will possibly have a harder time during and studying for tests.”
There are so many ways we can look at the value of standardized tests. While standardized tests sometimes identify students that are more likely to excel in their program, they also create unnecessary stress and limit the evaluator’s ability to investigate the true essence and potential of a student. Perhaps standardized tests should be kept, but changed to challenge educators to look far deeper than the little mark on a paper.