The Weight of Standardized Tests – by Olivia Fink

It’s that time of year, folks— one of giving, music, good cheer and fun, but also a time of stress, inner turmoil, and tumultuous college applications flying left and right. Seniors across the nation anxiously sit at their computers, advertising themselves to their top colleges through essays, academics, and lists of activities. One significant factor to the application process is taking standardized tests, which is either the SAT or SAT. The SAT iis the test that assesses student’s critical reading, language analysis, and arithmetic. It is split into four sections— the reading, language, and then math with and without a calculator. The new Sat is scored out of 1600, and the optional essay portion some students choose to take is scored out of 24. The ACT is a separate test, one that scores out of 36 and evaluates English, arithmetic, reading, and science and offers less time.  For nearly every college, they require either an SAT or ACT score when applying. These numbers are the apparent labels to every prospective college student, ones that colleges look at before anything else.

Why is this so important? Or really— why shouldn’t it be? The word “standardized” is right in the acronym; how can a test be perfectly applicable and within accomplishment for every student? The age-old example of testing a fish on its worth and then telling it to climb a tree is ludicrous— but it is a representative analogy. Most students are definitive in their academic progression through high school. Essentially, their transcripts provide evidence that their steady A’s and B’s across the board for quarter and semester grades are more representative than one test score— one done in a mere three hours. Shoving these years of learning into a brief time span usually provides damaging test scores, scores that hinder rather than help. The SAT and ACT has not become a measure of intelligence, but rather a test on how to take a test. Fortunately, more colleges are recognizing this, for example Kenyon College in Ohio: We look at your test scores, of course, but they are a secondary element, because they tell us only what you did on a particular Saturday morning, not how you performed across the course of four years in high school. We weigh your accomplishments to date against your potential.”

More colleges and admissions counselors, for example William Hiss, the Dean of Admissions for Bates College, value test scores for some people, but do not establish that value across the population. Hiss led a study in just 2014 that assessed GPA ratings alongside SAT and ACT scores. There was a negligible difference between the GPA of those who did subpar and those who flourished, and that was by a mere .5 percent, which shows no radical difference. People like Hiss confirm that some students simply aren’t supreme test takers, but have proven themselves through consistent grades rather than rushed test scores. To voice their own opinion, seniors of Memorial High School applying to college have much to say about standardized testing:

“I don’t think multiple choice answers correctly judge a student’s intelligence, but they still play a significant role in the college application… which means I will easily spend money on prepping, online academies, and study books if that means my score will get me into a better college, but not everyone can pay $70 for another test or another retake. So basically, SAT’s  suck.”: Belma Kondi, applying to colleges in Boston, Massachusetts.

Belma here focuses on the SAT, although the concept of spending money on testing is evident across the board. Registering for the SAT itself costs forty-five dollars, with an extra twelve dollars for the essay; the ACT costing forty-two fifty, or fifty-eight fifty with the essay. Students can obtain free waivers from their guidance counselors if needed, but, as Belma said, what about preparatory classes? What about practice tests books, online subscriptions, and test-start programs? One tutoring company in Manhattan charged $195 for only fifty minutes of teaching, while most still average around $100 per lesson. Understandably, most cannot afford one meeting. Higher test scores would allow affluent families and students to enroll in more prestigious colleges, ones that ironically offer the most financial aid and renewable merit-based scholarships. This may sound false— how can you tutor someone to magically become smarter? Yet again— the SAT and ACT are not necessarily a measure of intelligence, but moreso a test on how to take a test.

“The SAT and ACT are tests that are supposed to test a student’s knowledge, but in reality, just a small fraction of their smarts is being tested on what they do on one particular day. They easily could have had a rough morning, not known some of the material on the exam (which usually is the case) or they could have been sick! It is a poor way of recording a student’s smarts, but unfortunately it is a necessary baseline to have for the comparison of all students.”: Catalina Sinotte, also applying to colleges solely in Boston.

“I would rather get hit by a car than find out my SAT score.”:Anonymous

The cold, hard truth is that colleges do look at SAT scores, and they do consider it in some aspect—but not as a student’s whole. Admission counselors highly consider what teachers say in recommendations, student’s leadership positions, activities, community service, writing, portfolios, and much much more. To those students who happen to have a subpar SAT score, the way they can combat this is to know it is simply a number, not a definitive label, and more and more colleges will recognize this. We are progressively growing out of a time of restricted access and into equal consideration, and colleges will follow suit.

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