Standardized Testing: The Ugly, the Bad, and the Good

Everyone, from kids to adults, dislikes sitting down to complete a standardized test. The crowded, stuffy rooms, the nubby, graphite pencils, the anonymous sheets of empty bubbles — it is a harrowing experience, and most American students must endure it dozens of times throughout their academic careers.

Ostensibly, this is meant to ensure all students receive the same standard of education, so no group has less educational opportunities than any other. Unfortunately, that’s just not how standardized testing seems to work.

Fortunately, progressive schools — particularly online schools — are beginning to place less emphasis on standardized testing scores, and many are eliminating their use altogether. Students interested in attaining higher education should learn about the pros and cons of standardized testing as well as their future education options.

The Dubious History of Standardized Tests

Perhaps one of the most recognized standardized tests, the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, is taken by nearly 2 million students every year. The goal of the test is to prove to colleges that students have learned what they must — and more — from their high school educations, and to demonstrate that they are more than capable of collegiate careers. As a result, SAT results have become vital application materials, especially among the nation’s disadvantaged groups.

However, the SAT was not designed for that purpose; in fact, it was created in the 1920s expressly to keep out immigrants, minorities, and the poor. During that time, eugenics was on the rise, and educated elite struggled to prove that some races and classes of people were genetically superior. Standardized tests, like the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test (our modern IQ test) and the SAT, worked to segregate ethnic groups by perceived intellectual capacity.

Unfortunately for the SAT’s creator, his test-making precision undermined his goal. Instead of proving that Nordic whites were superior, his test showed that biological distinctions do not exist. By the 1950s, universities began using standardized tests like the SAT to find the best and brightest students, regardless of ethnicity and background.

Yet, the SAT remains controversial today. Dozens of critics contend that the test and others like it remain biased against disadvantaged groups, arguing that intelligence cannot be so easily quantified. On one hand, standardized tests allowed the meritocracy to gain power in the 20th century; on the other hand, standardized tests continue to hold many students back.

The Practical Effect of Standardized Testing

Today, standardized testing is no longer optional; in most states, students must not only take but pass a bevy of standardized tests to advance through school and graduate with a diploma. Commonly, these tests measure aptitude in a variety of subjects, but math and English are the dominant skills examined.

However, 1 in 10 Americans cannot speak English fluently, and 1 in 5 households does not use English as its primary language. Further, the English found in most standardized tests is a particular dialect that isn’t used in most regions of the country, so even many native English speakers are disadvantaged on the English portions of these exams as well as others only available in English.

Ultimately, studies on existing standardized tests have found that many of them fail to measure academic content knowledge effectively. Instead, they waste taxpayer money, schools’ time and energy, and student potential for no good reason.

The Solution to Standardized Testing

There could be a happy ending to this sad tale of standardized tests. Slowly, higher education institutions are recognizing that data obtained through standardized testing is at best useless, at worst holding students back, and many are making an unusual decision to opt-out of testing programs. Students who apply to these schools no longer must submit standardized test scores — which gives minority, poor, non-traditional, and other students greater opportunities to succeed.

Online schools, which generally defy traditional systems in favor of productive and valuable methods, are perhaps the leaders in the anti-standardized testing movement. Today, a student can acquire an online MBA, no GMAT required — and because the program exists online, that student will suffer fewer of the restrictions and biases that traditional higher education maintains.

There are critics to this solution. Detractors say that there is no other way to compare students’ academic achievements because schools around the country provide such drastically different levels of study. Some argue that tests merely need tweaking to make them more applicable to students of all walks of life — while others continue to argue that discrepancies between students exist to prove racial or ethnic superiority. The latter is patently untrue, and millions of researchers are busy concocting new standardized tests to address the former concern. However, until a standardized test is proven to give equal opportunities to all students, it might be best to eliminate them altogether.


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