Standardized test results fail to measure overall ability


The success of education in the U.S. is measured by the outcomes of standardized tests given to students – just little grey bubbles colored in with Number 2 pencils. These tests claim to assess students’ academic abilities. There’s the ACT and SAT, taken for college admissions. For education beyond college, there’s the MCAT, LSAT and GRE. Like it or not, the results of these test may decide your future.

According to an article on, each state spent over $1 billion. on standardized testing in schools in 2008. Since the No Child Left Behind mandate in 2002 required all students to take standardized tests in schools, U.S. math ranking has slipped from 18 to 31 in the world. With these realities in mind, are standardized tests effective?

Some students perform exceptionally well on tests, but other students feel the intense pressure and freeze up during testing, performing far below their actual ability level. Standardized tests don’t evaluate the critical thinking or creative abilities of students because some people don’t process information as quickly as others.

After the 2002 implementation of nationwide testing, schools’ yearly curriculum shifted toward preparing students for the tests. In some schools, more than a quarter of the school year is devoted to test preparation. The government sees the test results as a reflection of teachers’ instruction.

My senior year of high school revolved around ACT and SAT prep. In English classes, we reviewed vocabulary, practiced skimming tests and relearned basic grammar rules. In math classes, we rapidly reviewed older concepts and various shortcuts for answering questions: If you’re solving for x, just plug each answer into the equation instead of wasting time solving the equation.

Teachers provided many tricks and tools for “beating” the tests. On the ACT, answer all of the questions. On the SAT, leave them blank if you are unsure about the answer. ACT: Don’t read the science section, just read the questions and skim for the answers. Do the same with the reading portion. However, because some students take longer than others to read or skim, the time restraints prevent some testers from achieving their full potential.

Some students in my high school weren’t going to college, but their last year in school was still dominated by preparations for standardized tests they weren’t taking. They lost interest in the coursework because it wasn’t applicable. These tests don’t prepare students for the real world. Without the incentive of college acceptance, they are useless. In fact, there are many things standardized tests don’t evaluate: critical thinking, emotional intelligence, life skills and leadership qualities. All of these traits require much more than memorizing facts.

Some people argue that students should have the ability to opt out of standardized testing. However, this is a challenging topic. There does need to be some way to test students’ progress in school and to evaluate students in relation to each other. There will never be an even playing field, but standardized tests come as close as possible to creating one. While these tests reflect poorly on some people, they still have value. The tests highlight certain subjects students should focus on: math, reading, writing and science. Multiple-choice tests eliminate the human error and bias that go along with day-to-day grading: There’s a right and a wrong answer.

The main problem here lies in the interpretation of test results. Some students are pushed aside after they perform poorly on their tests. Other factors should be considered just as heavily as test scores.

At St Olaf, A’s aren’t taken for granted. To get an A in a class, you have to work for it. But in college, having the best grades doesn’t necessarily make you the best student. Extracurricular activities and club involvement also reflect strengths outside the world of academia.

It seems as though standardized tests are here to stay, but hopefully the numbers from these tests will bear less weight in the future.

Katie Haggstrom ’14 is from Omaha, Neb. She majors in English.


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