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Let’s start with an obvious opinion: no one likes standardized tests. They are not accurate ways of representing a student’s academic strengths. They do no assess academic ability. They assess one thing only: how well a student can take an academic test.

And yet they are essential for college admission. Because they are one of the few ways to learn about a large number of students’ academic aptitudes. Because standardized tests are important, a student can focus on how to take them. She can learn efficiency guidelines, general information that appears to be on many tests, and “tricks” that she can use to figure out answers. She does this by taking a class (or more than one class) on taking any standardized test one could think of. Funny, huh: a class to take a test. These classes are becoming quite common. And, apparently effective: my students have said it raised their scores on SATs and ACTs. These classes are expensive, though. For some students, the expense of taking the class is out of reach. Which brings up the question many people ask: if these classes are only possible for those who can afford to pay for it, but taking the class raises your test scores, and your test scores is a factor in college admission, is college admission only for those who can afford to pay for it?

Here are an article on standardized testing in schools, written by one of the big thinkers on the subject, Alfie Kohn. Kohn writes that the more we focus on the “numbers” in standardized testing, it masks teacher subjectivity. But teaching is subjective, there’s no way around it. And it’s not something you want to eliminate from teachers. Kohn writes, and I agree, that schools are beginning to distrust teachers’ judgements, largely because parents are starting to. As a teacher, this is funny to me. The one thing that parents want is my objective assessment of who their kid is; but they also are afraid of my objective assessment of who their kid is. I don’t think any standardized test will alleviate that anxiety.

Photo: http://gameofroles.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/071116_standardizedtests_wi-horizontal.jpg

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2 thoughts on “Standardized testing

  1. I can remember spending much of my time in an otherwise very challenging AP English class in 12th grade learning how to take the SAT. I find it sad that an excellent teacher’s resources were spent on test-taking prep instead of more time on the amazing books that we read and challenging papers that we wrote. I realized, after I had taken the SAT and done poorly on it, that it was merely a test of test-taking, not of my aptitude or intelligence. I should have retaken it, but I guess I was too annoyed. All those years of excelling in all AP and honors courses came down to a poorly conceived test. Sigh.

    That said, I understand that many of the best colleges and universities are now downplaying the role of SATs and ACTs and looking more at subjective elements, like essays and interviews, as well as the whole student.

    • Melissa

      Thanks for your comment.

      There is less dependence on tests for college admissions, but they still have widespread use. Most colleges still believe other elements can be “gamed” – essays can be professionally edited, and interviews can be coached. Of course, tests can be gamed, too – that’s the problem. But many colleges feel tests are as close to getting an accurate idea of academic ability.

      Maybe it will be different by the time your kids go to college.

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