Standardized testing unfairly judges students

Laura Turner, Business and Distribution Manager

By senior year, everyone knows what it’s like to sharpen their No.2 pencils, silence their cell phones, and sit for hours on end bubbling, reading, figuring, and rushing to finish before the proctor declares “Time.” The ACT, MCAs, PSATs, Explore, you name it. The standardized testing experience is something with which we’re all a little too familiar.
But by nature, standardized tests don’t account for student differences. Take, for example, the ACT English exam. English has always been one of my best subjects on standardized tests. Adverbs, punctuation, grammar; you name it, I know the stupid grammatical rule for it.

My success on the test has little to do with anything I’ve learned in school. I am a middle class white girl; the English they’re testing is the kind I’ve learned. My parents drilled standard English into my head from a young age. But that isn’t everyone’s experience.

I also test especially quickly. I am lucky to comprehend what I read even if I am reading fast. I work well under pressure and have a surprising capacity to endure hours of testing while maintaining performance. These qualifications set me up to do well on standardized tests regardless of my actual intelligence.

The people who are not as lucky as I am are kids who cannot afford test preparation classes, the kids for whom English is their second language, the kids who read slowly, or those who have a hard time focusing. These factors don’t determine a student’s intelligence, but they are determinants in standardized test settings, and this is unfair.

This would be an easy problem to mend if standardized exams did not hold such high stakes in our education system. “While standardized test scores may not determine an individual students’ grades,” reads an article in the Twin Cities Daily Planet, “they do impact students’ beliefs about whether they are succeeding or failing.” The article explains that some standardized test scores are used to determine school funding. In some areas students’ scores are used to evaluate teachers.

But according to a report released by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, standardized tests provide little insight into a students’ college success. It found that “Few significant differences between submitters and non-submitters [of standardized tests] were observed in cumulative GPAs and graduation rates, despite significant differences in SAT/ACT scores.” Standardized test scores indicate little about students’ intelligence, but continue to be used as means to limit students, districts, and classrooms that perform poorly on them.

These students are overwhelmingly students of color. According to the Minnesota Department of Higher Education, the average ACT score for Minnesota students in 2013 was 23.0 on a 36-point scale. White students were the only group who exceeded that number, with an average score of 23.6. Black students scored an average 18.0, Native Americans 19.7, and Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander students scored 20.2 and 20.7, respectively.

The New York Daily News reported that in addition to “abysmal” scores across the board on standardized tests, “Districts with the most high-needs students did especially poorly in reading and math.”

If test scores continue to be used so widely, the school system will continue to serve the achievement gap. White kids will continue to stand out in college admissions, poor and minority schools and districts will lose funding and continue to be falsely labeled ‘failing.’ Using standardized test scores inhibits some students from success, creating an opportunity gap against those who do not perform well on them.

Standardized tests should be used as a tool to help students, not judge them. Schools and teachers should be able to choose what tests their students take. The results should be used to address challenges students face and develop curriculum to help them improve their skills.

Colleges need to find a better way to compare students. But I caution against anything too standardized.
A set of standards could be established across core and elective disciplines by a national entity such as the College Board. There could be extra standards for advanced and college-level work. Throughout high school, students could submit portfolios to the board. Their work would be scored according to the standard. They could submit a final score, project, or report to colleges instead of an ACT or SAT score. This program would look at their learning, evaluate students’ strengths and improvement, and provide a unique evaluation of each student as an individual while still holding them to standard learning objectives.