Standardized stress

Are standardized tests a useful tool to measure academic achievement, or do they only add stress to the already stressful lives of students?


Photo courtesy of PxHere

Do standardized tests serve as the measure of college preparedness they’re supposed to?

Validity: the extent to which a test’s measures or predicts what it is supposed to.

Standardized tests determine how most of our life will go: whether we get into college, how much money we can get and how much we have to pay to go, and the like. They place a single number on what we’ve achieved in eleven, twelve years of school.

But can our over-a-decade-of-academics really be reflected in a single number? Maybe you had a bad day when you took the test, or didn’t sleep well the night before. Maybe you were sick the day of the SAT or ACT, and your score dropped a few points from where it should have been. Whatever the cause, if you happen to do worse on one day, your score drops, and you lose yet another Saturday morning to testing.

We can also discuss how the costs of standardized testing limit some students more than they affect others. Both the SAT and ACT cost approximately $50 for each exam, which doesn’t look like much for taking the exam only once, but the cost adds up after taking the ACT two, or three, even four times. The cost imposes a ceiling on how well one can do, allowing people with more to spend to get better scores simply by taking the test again and again until they get the score they want.

The cost of taking an exam isn’t the only factor limiting people based on income: the ability to get quality tutoring or preparation for one of these standardized tests is also limited by money. When advertisements for ACT prep courses showed up in my mailbox in January, what stuck out to me wasn’t the credentials of the advertised program, nor was it the purported success rate; it was the cost. Over a hundred dollars for a study session lasting only a few hours. I didn’t end up going, but I’m left with the impression that they do help, if only because of how good business was for them. The immense cost of ACT prep sessions was what finally opened my eyes to how much of a business test prep truly was.

Going back to the definition of validity, I’m left wondering: do standardized tests actually reflect how prepared we are for college, or how good we are as students? Or do they just reflect the money we’ve sunk into trying to look better to colleges? And if they don’t really reflect who we are as people, then why do we take their results so seriously?

Maybe we should stop taking standardized tests as seriously as we do; stop taking them as a measure of academic success, and instead, treat them as they really are: just a number, used to assess us based on how well we did on one morning of our life.