The Truth about Standardized Tests

By Alexis Berry ’19

For many Saturdays each year, hundreds of thousands of students in the United States will flock to a national testing center to fill in scantron bubbles for more than three hours. Anxious about their performances on the exam, many students worry if their score will allow them to attend the top college on their list. However, for some students, the ACT provides worries about more than just college admissions.

“The first time I took the ACT it absolutely destroyed my confidence and belief in myself,” explains senior Lila Smith. As a student who struggles with dyslexia, Lila is not alone in struggling with taking college admissions tests because of a learning difference. Although students with learning differences are allotted extended time on said admissions tests, the test is still more challenging for students with learning differences than students without.

Girls Division Learning Services Director Ms. Oliver also agrees that even students with accommodations are at a disadvantage on high stakes tests like the ACT and SAT.

“These tests can be blind to the many abilities students possess that support them in compensating and tapping into skills that are not easily measured,” Oliver said.

Furthermore, students with learning disorders are not the only individuals at a disadvantage for college admissions exams. Success on the SAT and ACT also has a high correlation to socioeconomic status. According to many studies, the ACT and SAT favor wealthy students. From the expense of test preparation materials and books to costly tutors, more affluent students perform higher on average than lower income students.

Girls Division theology teacher, Mr. Smith adds that in his experience as a teacher at lower income school Jesuit school in Atlanta that the presence of implicit biases in the language the test uses, also provides challenges for students. He mentions that though the test is coachable, it still is not the best indicator of students’ intelligence—especially for his Cristo Rey students in Atlanta and other low-income students.

“The way some test questions are worded allows for a window of failure for these students,” Smith said.
The unequal obstacles that the ACT provides students is just one of the many reasons why tests like the ACT and SAT are flawed exams. With something as high-stakes as college admissions, it is imperative that the ACT is not weighed as heavily as it currently is in the admissions process.

Although some may argue that a standardized test is the only way to judge students from all over the country on a scale, does this scale hold up when some students are at a significant disadvantage due to this exam? This test provides many challenges to lower income students who cannot afford an SAT tutor. Likewise, a student with a learning difference who does not qualify for extended time is also at a significant disadvantage.

For university systems that claim to admit intellectually curious, diverse, and more than anything: unique students, this exam is not working. Not only does this exam discourage creativity, which contradicts many college admissions’ claims of looking for unique applicants, it also encourages an exclusion of said student groups from more elite schools.

A complete abolishment of the ACT and SAT test is not likely at this point with college admissions becoming more competitive than they have ever been in the past, but this test ought to be weighed less in the admissions process.

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