Why Standardized Testing Needs to Go.


By Harry Robertson

In recent years, the discussion surrounding the necessity of standardized testing has gained traction. An increasing number of colleges and universities have stopped requiring SAT or ACT scores in their admissions, and the public outlook on the tests has become more cynical. What are the motivations behind this abandonment of standardized testing, and how valid are they?

For a number of confounding reasons, there has always been a steady and obvious correlation between affluence and test scores. Students who are better off financially have better access to higher quality test-preparation. Beyond that, they don’t have to deal with the mental and economic strain of poverty, which has shown a strong correlation to higher stress and a greater prevalence of mental illness. There are significant disparities in the quality of education based on location and/or income. All of these factors contribute to higher test scores for more affluent students. 

The wealth disparity in the United States exists along racial lines. Through hundreds of years of structural racism, the net worth of the average white family is 10x that of the average African-American family. All this is to say that the SAT should be disbanded, alongside other forms of standardized testing. There are better measures of intellect and academic proficiency than what we do now, and the current system foments racial and class-based inequalities.

The advantages afforded to white, upper-middle class students also serve as roadblocks for disadvantaged students of color. The market for SAT-prep is costly, with tutors and certain prep-courses costing hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. That market has its buyers, though, meaning that effective and affordable tutoring is difficult to come by. There are online programs like Khan Academy, as well as school-offered resources that can benefit underprivileged students, but, comparatively, the support systems for wealthier students is much more comprehensive and effective.

Standardized tests in general also carry with them added pressures that students may not be equipped to handle. The very concept of standardized is to provide students with the same test regardless of outstanding factors, such as the aforementioned socioeconomic status. Furthermore, a student’s home life can have massive implications on academic performance. Standardized tests do not account for this.

So, what is the alternative?

The thing is, there doesn’t need to be one. As a society we have gotten so used to this prejudicial testing system that we fail to see its lack of importance. We can replace standardized tests with tests that actually seek to help students learn, rather than to just pressure and question. Often, complex and nuanced concepts are reduced to mundane and uninspired tests which students lament. For the purposes of data collection, something standardized tests do well, and student assessment, there are other methods we can utilize, as the organization RethinkingSchools details here.