Abolish Standardized Testing

Opinion

In the past few months, major debate has arisen over the idea of colleges going test-optional, a policy that even the eight Ivy League schools have adopted in pandemic times. While this is a step in the right direction, I suggest even going one step further: abolishing standardized testing as a college admissions requirement forever. A poor index of academic ability that rewards wealth over worth has no place in modern times, and doing away with standardized testing is a necessary process as part of eliminating the privilege problem that plagues higher education. 

Firstly, standardized tests are not an accurate indicator of scholastic passion or intellect. To measure a student’s academic worth through four general categories is a deeply flawed notion. There’s more to English than making the most efficient sentences or finding suitable word replacements, and there’s more to science than data analysis and graph interpretation. A student might struggle in trigonometry, a subject tested on the SAT, but could also excel in computer science, a subject not tested on the SAT, meaning their ability will go unrepresented on the standardized tests. Compared to grading systems devised by the student’s school, formulated to reflect a far wider wealth of information, standardized tests simply do not measure up. Besides, if the most prestigious universities have been able to admit students fairly without standardized testing this year, then what is preventing us from continuing this policy in the future?

Apart from providing a shallow perspective on a student’s academic ability, standardized tests suffer from another issue: the tests are formatted in a manner that benefits the wealthy and privileged. Many schools provide little preparation for the SAT and ACT, meaning private tutors or third-party programs become attractive options for those able to afford them. For those at the top of the socioeconomic pyramid, test prep is a non-issue, but many do not have the money for these luxuries. It is especially unfair to rely on these tests considering that those of lower socioeconomic status are given less educational opportunities to begin with, and will likely be less able to compete with wealthier individuals on these tests specifically. As society comes to grips with our history of systemic racism, the least we can do is to abolish barriers continuing to restrict access to a good education. 

Finally, standardized tests are simply impractical at this time. During this global pandemic, the last thing we need is more potential sources of exposure. Every standardized test is a risk one doesn’t need to take, and every standardized test has a monetary impact—the money needed to rent the space, clean the room after testing finishes, and accommodate precautions not even guaranteed to succeed. This money has better uses beyond funding an outmoded practice that values conformity over diversity and money over merit. 

Abolishing standardized tests outright is an idea that may meet some resistance. In fact, scientific papers praise the psychological benefits of standardized testing. A study by University of Illinois psychology professor Aaron S. Benjamin and UCSD psychology professor Hal Pashler concluded that standardized testing can benefit memory and material comprehension. But these benefits are not mutually exclusive to standardized tests. Pashler and Benjamin state that all forms of testing can result in these cognitive changes, not just the SAT and ACT. This means that the elimination of standardized testing would not result in any lost benefits.

After serving as the status quo for so long, the ACT and SAT will have many defenders. But the status quo is not always right, and allowing the continued existence of standardized tests is a direct endorsement of educational classism and racism.