The Fall of the Standardized Test

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By: Alex Badger ’20

There is nothing like a standardized test to stress a student out. Classes, prep books, practice tests have a tendency to drown students in the pressure of filling in bubbles. Each year over 1.5 million students take the SAT, and a similar number take the ACT. But why are these tests necessary? This question puzzles students, and colleges have started asking themselves the exact same question.

The idea of a standardized test began in 1926 with Ivy League schools trying to evaluate the educations of high schools outside of the region. Schools like Harvard and Yale wanted to expand their geographic diversity, so they supported national standardized testing to view the academic talent of students from schools they couldn’t research. The initial intent of the tests was to level the playing field for people outside of the classic ring of New England prep schools and give students an equal opportunity for an elite education. But in the end, it has done the exact opposite.

The tests have separated two groups of people, as Harvard initially wanted, but instead of divide them by academic talent, it has begun to divide the good test takers from the bad test takers. Some people thrive under the pressure of multiple choice tests, and have no problem sitting inside of a school for four hours taking the same test. But for others, it is their worst nightmare. Students can always see two right answers, or they can’t focus for that long, and they’re being punished for it.

These “bad” test takers are being punished for something that isn’t entirely in their control. There are many very talented students who may struggle with multiple choice questions, or who struggle with a test that’s difficult to prepare for. Testing has become less about measuring the intelligence of the students, and more of a test in whether students are good at a certain kind of test.

Also, it has become easier to research the academic rigor of schools around the country and therefore assess the quality of education a student has earned. With the growth of the internet, as well as newspapers and magazines developing rankings for high schools, the evaluation of schools has made college admission counselors’ jobs a lot easier. This sudden change has made standardized testing somewhat obsolete in its original purpose, as college officials have noticed.

Over a thousand schools, including WPI and the University of Chicago, have become test-optional. This means that these colleges and universities are no longer relying on standardized test scores to accept students. Even the schools that aren’t quite so open-minded, have largely switched their policy so students only have to submit on of the major tests, as opposed to both. Some people struggle with the SAT and are better at the ACT, so colleges have acknowledged that and improved their admissions policies. In an interview with USA Today, Harvard director of undergraduate admissions said, “Generally speaking, the SAT is not very important,” while describing their admissions process.

Despite the lack of practicality there will still be stress and hours spent with test prep books opened. But the standardized test is disappearing and fast. Earlier this summer, when the University of Chicago announced that they would become the first elite(less than 15% acceptance rate) school to become test optional, many other elite universities have said they are thinking about following suit. Once these high tier schools adjust their admissions process, schools around the nation will follow suit, until standardized testing is a thing of the past. The inevitable downfall of an outdated measurement, the grave is being dug on the SAT and ACT, and there will be no students mourning the loss.