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That’s debatable: Should colleges consider standardized test scores in admissions?

Standardized testing gives an equal and fair chance to students

Isaac Yontz

What do Princeton Review, Prep Scholar, and Kaplan all have in common? 

They all make copious amounts of money off study material for standardized tests. Students will often work themselves tirelessly learning the rules of the commas or if the comma belongs in or outside of the quote, which causes anxiety as the test date nears. The stress caused by standardized tests sparks debate about the ethics of these exams; however, standardized tests are imperative to a student’s application. 

Students devote months preparing for exams like the American College Test (ACT) and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) provide an objective score, which contrasts with many of the more subjective areas in the college admissions process.

In order to give students an equal and fair chance, admissions offices should consider students with a standardized baseline, which is what these tests provide: a metric applied to all students. Tests like the ACT and SAT can be stressful, but they accurately predict students’ success in college. 

According to a study conducted by Nathan Kuncel, a researcher at the University of Minnesota, the ACT and SAT accurately foresight college readiness four times better than grade point average (GPA). The study concluded that standardized tests were 28 times as likely to predict the success of a student in college, while GPA was only 13 times as likely. Furthermore, those who scored high on standardized tests end up making more money and achieving more prestigious jobs after post-secondary education.

Sadly, while one’s GPA and extracurricular may seem like objective tellers of one’s merit, they can both be easily manipulated to give a glorification of the truth. Standardized test scores are the only consistent source of validation that cannot be subjective.

Seth Gerhenson, researcher at Thomas B. Fordham Institute, reported that students who go to affluent schools will score well in Algebra I, but only a portion of those students will score well on the end-of-course exam. Grade inflation is becoming more and more of a problem as top students will stand out less. Standardized tests give academically strong students a change to exhibit mastery of skills.

A common argument against standardized tests is cost, putting low-income students at a disadvantage. Mikhail Zychsten, an analyst at The Atlantic, reports fee waivers can be obtained. Regardless, alternatives to standardized testing still put low-income students at a disadvantage; however, colleges already sufficiently keep this in mind when reviewing applications

What other options give students an objective score that is the same as their peers? There is no perfect system, but standardized tests provide the best way to level the playing field for students. Standardized tests are not easy, but it is the lesser of the two evils for maximizing equal opportunities.

Another form of standardized testing is AP Exams. AP classes are ways for students to prove that they can succeed in a college environment. College Board, the organization that provides AP Exams, allows students to test on a subject and earn college credit based on their score.

Beyond that, AP exams cost significantly less than a semester course. For example, AP exams will cost significantly less than a semester course at college as each AP exam costs $49 per exam and a single credit hour at Mizzou would cost $386 for instate residents.

While detractors of standardized tests point to the barriers that low income students can face in taking them, they in fact can be incredibly valuable to those trying to save money in college. There is no perfect system in college admissions, which is why the holistic process exists, but standardized tests are the most equal metric available for evaluating students.

Cramming for the ACT last minute may seem pointless, but the grammar rules, reading comprehension, and depth of logical reasoning are all required in college. Instead of criticizing standardized tests oddly-phrased questions, their unreasonable test scores, or the time it takes to receive your test scores, students could become prepared for college-level work and jobs later on in life.


Standardized testing is biased towards privileged students

Amira Mckee

Standardized tests provide unique and significant advantages to more privileged students, creating a discriminatory means by which admissions officers judge applicants, and thus they should not be used as a determining factor in college admissions. 

According to the Washington Post in 2014, the Stanford Achievement Test (SAT), the most popular college applicant assessment,  favors the children of wealthy and educated families while discriminating against those of low income, less educated families. 

The article states, “Students from families earning more than $200,000 a year average a combined score of 1,714, while students from families earning under $20,000 a year average a combined score of 1,326. A similar study found a student with a parent with a graduate degree, on average scores 300 points higher on their SATs compared to a student with a parent with only a high school degree.”

Furthermore, in a 2013 paper titled,Race, Poverty and SAT Scores,” researchers Ezekiel J. Dixon-Roman from the University of Pennsylvania and John J. Mcardle from the University of Southern California found that wealthy students earn higher SAT scores compared to their low-income peers and that the difference in SAT scores between high and low-income students was twice as large among black students compared to white students.

Much of this inequality is because standardized tests are meant to test one thing: the extent to which a student has already acquired knowledge through education. Poor schooling, also referred to as “educational disparity,” results in students getting less individual attention from teachers, having fewer learning aids such as computers, out of date textbooks and often experience harsher discipline in schools. All of these may result in students acquiring less knowledge or skills  because they are not well taught or get fewer options for learning. 

The purpose of standardized tests is to provide a fair and equitable measure for which to judge the academic quality of a student. Instead, standardized tests regularly provide significant disadvantage to historically underserved and low-income groups. The very nature of standardized tests are rooted in an archetypical view of student excellence that is more easily attainable through socioeconomic privilege. Simply, standardized tests are fundamentally discriminatory. 

Therefore, although standardized tests may measure differences in intelligence or learning between students who actually have the same resources and backgrounds, on the large scale, what they measure best is who has had access to a higher quality education as a result of higher socioeconomic status. The only morally permissible action that would end the blatantly discriminatory consideration of standardized tests is for college admissions officers to no longer consider them in acceptance decisions.

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