Call it the “Rites of Adolescence,” but every month millions of high school students will sweat through the ACT or SAT tests in hopes of earning scores that will get them in to the college of their choice.
I happen to think there’s a better way than assessing scores to determine “the worthy,” and fortunately the gig may soon be up for such tests anyway as more colleges are dropping the requirement or making it optional.
As is, the traditional way of ranking students on the basis of test results is fraught with cultural bias, even though testing originally had potential for leveling the playing field. Now all you had to do was prove your smarts, and no matter your ethnicity, gender, locale, or social-economics, you were guaranteed a place at the table. No more governing factors such as money and class. Whatever the nobility of the seminal motive, the system now in place hardly assures equity.
Consider that test results are sensitive to coaching and those who can afford it resort to this approach. Some take the test multiple times, trusting schools will consider their highest score only.
There’s also the risk of cheating as in this year’s Long Island scandal.
Additionally, some institutions wanting their way into U.S. News and World Report‘s annual rankings manipulate the data to their advantage, the most notorious example occurring at Claremont McKenna College in 2007, leading to the resignations of several administrators.
Those who defend testing contend it has value in assessing how well students will perform in their first year of college. I would counter that the new research indicates students outside the testing paradigm do fairly well so long as their grades were good in high school. After all, motivation plays a big part in succeeding as a college student, given the rigor of many college courses, and good grades throughout high school are strong markers of that needed discipline.
Advocates would also claim the tests indicate mastery of writing, reading, and reasoning, skills needed in college.
If the latter is true, you might think that SATs and the like are essentially IQ tests and you wouldn’t be wrong, since researchers have found a strong correlation. I think of IQ tests as setting up a kind of caste system, again with the more affluent at the top, reflecting greater access to good schools and high culture. It reminds me of playing Trivial Pursuit. If you win, does it mean you’re smarter than your fellow game players? On the contrary, it merely shows you may be more informed through greater exposure.
I have always thought we would do better by evaluating aptitude. We’re all different, and we all know people who are book smart, but rather clumsy at anything else. On the other hand, I’ve known everyday people with little education beyond high school whom I’ve relied upon to solve the daily complexities that often render me helpless. I don’t know about you, but I’m all thumbs when it comes to mechanics, carpentry, and things electrical. I have two graduate degrees, but I’m really horrendously bankrupt in so many areas. I may second guess my doctor, but never when it comes to my plumber!
In closing, consider the wise counsel of former Towson University president James L. Fisher:
“For more than 50-years, replicable research has indicated there is a better predictor than any combination of all the present predictors (class rank, GPA, and standardized test). The best predictor is an easily computer academic composite score derived from subjects taken in secondary schools and English, mathematics, grades received, certain science courses, foreign language and advanced placement courses with weights assigned based on grades received)”(www.tcp/news/).
Sorry Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, Henry Ford that you didn’t get-in. Have you thought about joining the Army?