So before I proceed to unrelentingly bash the SAT and standardized testing in general, I’ll get some of its benefits out in the open…
Any proponent of this whole standardized testing deal will have you know that there are bare minimums necessary for a student to be considered competent in the world today. In order to be remotely useful to society, which is the ultimate goal of our education system, a student must be able to do things like sit in a classroom against his wishes and do homework even when he deems it unnecessary. Similar situations are apparent in almost any job in the adult world. There are basic skills all kids need to be considered something above retarded – quite literally, without using the term in a derogatory sense. Standardized testing is an efficient way of weeding out individuals who lack the skills to contribute anything to society; that is, people who cannot do basic math (God knows I’m not a math genius) or basic vocabulary/writing questions. I’m not being mean or pompous about it. There are certain things you have to be able to do and that’s a given. It can also tell apart the geniuses from the norm; obviously, no ignoramus is going to waltz right into the testing room and walk out with a 2400. That’s also a given. Another benefit is the simpler means of comparison that a standardized test provides. One school may offer a curriculum that is exceptionally harder to succeed in than another school’s “easy A” type of curriculum. A test like the SAT provides an objective measure that is roughly the same for everyone who takes it and therefore makes it easier to assess a particular student when compared to another one who took the test. Congratulations, College Board. The way I see it, that’s about it for the “pros.”
The negative aspects of the current standardized testing system far outweigh the positives mentioned above. I mentioned that the SAT provides an “objective measure.” The question remains, what is the SAT objectively measuring? It’s measuring math and English skills that were supposed to have been acquired throughout one’s academic career, and nothing more. The problems with this simple fact are limitless, but there are two in particular which I want to discuss.
1) What if somebody’s skills lie outside of the realm of traditional mathematics, reading, or grammar skills? One could say, “sucks for them, there are some things you just have to be good at to get by.” Yes, this is usually the case. But imagine a budding artist whose drawings are somehow better and more revolutionary than the likes of Pablo Picasso or Vincent Van Gogh. Let’s say this kid really, really sucks at the subjects the SAT deems worthwhile. What of this poor student? He could go on to accomplish great things in the world, but the SAT will make it extremely difficult for him to get into a top notch college if he really just can’t do well on it. I guess this objection could be summarized by saying that the SAT does not make room for multiple intelligences. It idealizes only a very specific set of skills and impedes the goals of students who might be otherwise extremely talented.
A better comparison might be the hypothetical situation of Albert Einstein in the modern education system. You’d take it for granted that Einstein would graduate from a school like Harvard or some other elite school with numerous honors at the top of his class. But let’s say, he couldn’t construct the best essay in the world and maybe didn’t have the finest grammatical skills. Then, from a purely statistical level, Albert Einstein could have been labeled a fairly mediocre (or even worse) student, especially if his SAT score was looked at holistically and not broken down into the individual sections. Sure, young Einstein would have been equipped with the math skills to grow up and change the world as everyone knew it. But had he been living today, when SAT scores are placed on a level of utmost value, and when so is the college that one attends, who says he would have attained the same level of success that he did in reality? Eh. The argument might be a little shaky. But the point is that there are different types of skills and intelligence levels that the highly valued SAT simply doesn’t allow for, thus making it harder than necessary for children of such skills to thrive.
2) Another gaping flaw in the logic behind the SAT is the supposed “objectivity” of its measurements. As I said originally, one potential benefit is the ease with which two SAT takers can be compared, instead of being compared through their school curricula, which could differ greatly in levels of difficulty. But the simple fact of the matter, and my strongest objection to this method of testing, is that standardized tests such as the SAT are clearly socioeconomically biased. All these tests – the SAT, ACT, LSAT, GRE, you name it – cover skills which are supposed to be learned over an extended period of time. The vast majority of test-takers will have forgotten some of the information that the test demands not be forgotten, hence the need for private tutoring, which most people I know (myself included), do make use of. Even the books that some students study religiously count as extra tutoring. That being said, standardized tests are too obviously biased towards wealthy students.
Since these students are wealthy, or at least wealthier than some who may be less economically fortunate, they can afford professional help in studying for these tests. They will therefore score higher than students who cannot afford, for example, a course designed to increase scores. I think anyone who can make use of it will make use of it, which is why I do. Nobody wouldn’t due to some moral objection. But if I didn’t have the money to cover it, my scores would be dramatically less than the scores I’ll apply to colleges with. And those scores make a huge difference, whether you and I like it or not. I happen to perform excellently in both the verbal and writing sections of the SAT. I also happen to perform downright terribly on the math section, because it’s just not my thing. My point is that if I had no money to buy the books, the courses, and the tutors, it would be apparent to colleges from one glance at my test scores that math is really “not my thing.” But thanks to the extra help I acquired through way too many dollars spent, my scores will ultimately be at least 150-200 points higher than what they would have been with no extra help. Had I been less fortunate, my college options would be slimmer than they will be, and we all know how important a decent college is in the current economy (may it make a speedy recovery, now let us all respond amen).
It is primarily due to the facts that standardized tests make no room for certain talents, and that they are socioeconomically biased, that I have no respect for them. They’re not a valid measurement of intelligence at all, rather a measurement of how many tutors you can buy and how many books you can bury yourself in order to increase your score, and thus your college options, and thus perhaps the big picture of your lie. All around, an epic fail at pretty much everything it pretends to be, if you ask me.