Updated: June 29, 2023

Jessica Z.

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Standardized Testing: The SAT & ACT College Admissions Tests

Jessica Z.

Standardized testing calls for isolated education, does not really measure theory, but test-taking abilities. This method of evaluation allows for zero diversity between students, they are all expected to have the same thinking patterns. These students are all being compared to one another; there is an average being set, allowing some to soar above others and some knowing they are not as academically talented as the "norm". Standardized testing is being used in the United States today more than any country at any time. The time spent teaching our next generation how to write, read, think analytically, and work as a team or in a hands-on environment is now being spent teaching our students how to take tests, answer multiple choice questions and read paragraphs. The way our society looks at numbers evolving from our standardized testing scores is disturbing. Politicians say the numbers are not high enough, use the results as campaigning tactics and speak of our future leaders as a number, a statistic, and a standard.

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Standardized tests are administered under controlled conditions that specify where, when, how, and for how long children may respond to the questions or "prompts." These tests provide for a "systematic procedure for describing behaviors, whether in terms of numbers or categories," and provide for a set of norms, to which scores of test takers will be compared to in order to compile a standard among peers. The test items are derived from experience, either by experiment or observation, rather than theory. All tests present the same tasks and require the same response modes from all victims. Standardized tests were created to give educators a standard of measure to analyze how well school programs, instructors, or individual pupils were performing. Today test scores are used as primary criteria in judging the success or failure of students, teachers, and schools. Behaviorist psychological theories from the nineteenth century are the basis of standardized test. While our understanding of the brain and how people learn and think has progressed enormously, tests have remained the same. Behaviorism assumed that knowledge could be broken into separate bits and the people learned by passively absorbing these bits. Today, cognitive and developmental psychologists un erstand that knowledge is not separable bits and that people learn by connecting past experiences with what they are trying to learn. If students cannot actively make meaning out of what they are doing, they do not learn or remember. Most standardized tests do not incorporate the modern theories and are still based on recall of isolated facts and narrow skills.

Good teacher observation, documentation of student work, and performance-based assessment provide a much better analysis of individual student abilities and knowledge. This type of analysis involves direct evaluation of students' work on real tasks. Information needed for parents, teachers, and governments are still susceptible through these types of assessments. Allowing individuality creates opportunities for growth, self-discovery, and confidence in individual talents and abilities. Students are more opt to succeed if work is encouraged, not rated and compared to a set standard. The United States is the only economically advanced nation to heavily rely on multiple-choice tests. Other nations use performance-based assessments where students are evaluated on the basis of real work such as essays, projects and activities.

Standardized tests do not require or allow for any thought or creation in any subject. The tests do not allow for any real-world differences, individuality, or diversity among test takers. The Stanford Achievement Test (SAT) test-makers admit that two students' scores must differ by at least 144 points, out of 1600, before they are willing to say the student's measured abilities really differ.2 The standard table of measure must be constructed this way to allow for a median. How are we going to allow our future leaders to be overlooked with such simplicity? The SAT and other well known standardized tests are created so that only about half of the test-takers will respond correctly to most items. In a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, elementary school students were classified as "actively" engaged in learning if they asked questions to themselves while they read and tried to connect what they were doing to past learningand as "superficially" engaged if they copied answers, guessed a lot, and skipped the hard parts. It turned out that high scores on two popular standardized tests were more likely to be found among students who exhibited the superficial approach to learning. Similar findings have emerged from studies of middle and high school students. To be sure, there are plenty of students who think deeply and score well on tests-and plenty of students who do neither. But as a rule it appears that standardized-test results are positively correlated with a shallow approach to learning.

The resources being used to prepare students for standardized tests have to come from somewhere. Our schools are cutting out electives, social events, and entire subject areas to focus on areas covered in the tests. Therefore, low-income schools will find it harder to adapt to these changes. While low-income students focus on test matter such as multiple-choice questions they are falling further behind more financially stable districts that can enrich students in every aspect. Is the mission of our educational system to measure intelligence and practical applications or test-taking skills?

There is no more discussion of learning or of new educational methods. The educational discourse in our nation has been limited to the following statement: "Test scores are too low. Make them go up." Standardized testing should be eliminated as a way of measuring student academic abilities. This method of evaluation allows for no diversity among pupils and dictates all individuals have the same learning preferences. Standardized tests are monopolizing student evaluations in the United States, providing less funding to focus on practical education. This practice allows for little analytical thinking among today's youth, holding our students back from their full potentials. As a nation, we need to stop isolating our educational focuses on test-taking abilities and focus on individual intelligence and personal strengths.