The Case Against The Standardized Testing Systems in the United States

Sarah Hetzel , Contributor

The SAT was founded in 1926 as a way of testing a man’s intelligence before he was accepted into the army. This test has grown into the SAT that millions of high school students across the United States take each spring, completing the final piece of their college applications, and thus securing their fate for the future. Large amounts of emphasis are placed on the importance of performing well in the SATs, but as we discover more about the many different learning habits and styles of students, the more clear it becomes that the SAT is growing into an outdated and unfair way of measuring intelligence. The weight placed on these tests causes stress for most students and is arguably not a fair indicator of the aptitude of an individual. 

As students prepare to take the SATs, they lose sleep attempting to fit studying for the tests in with the other piles of homework that are assigned to them. It is difficult to spend the time necessary for the preparation of such tests when students are also expected to be working on regular school assignments. This causes stress to rise, meaning that students are already not in their best states of mind. To add to this stress, parents, teachers, and colleges all place the idea into the minds of students from an early age that the SATs are the most important test that we will take in our lives. We are left with the idea that the number of points we earn from filling out bubbles with our #2 pencils will determine our whole future. A common train of thought becomes: If I don’t have time to study for the SATs, then I won’t perform well. If I don’t perform well, then I won’t get into a good college. If I don’t get into a good college, then I won’t find a good job. And on goes the downward spiral. A catastrophic style of thinking is developed within students as they consider possible outcomes of performing badly on the SATs. Because of the stress created by the test, students aren’t likely to perform to the best of their abilities. The organizers of the test or those who see the value in the test are also adults, so it is difficult for them to relate to the stress that comes with being a teen. They aren’t able to see that the overwhelming anxiety of standardized testing can be detrimental to not only test scores, but to overall mental health. 

Along with the fact that standardized testing generates large amounts of stress within students, these testing practices are also unfair methods of gauging intelligence. For example, an individual who puts large amounts of time and effort into studying the inner workings of the human brain is clearly going to be an intelligent individual, but nowhere on the SAT does it make any mention of the human brain. Someone who is extremely astute in person and has extremely high emotional intelligence but perhaps not the greatest talent for math is also going to be seen as unintelligent in testing scores, but someone who has no emotional awareness and happens to be a math whiz will come across as a genius. Due to the narrow measuring system of testing one’s IQ, many psychologists believe that one’s EQ is actually a better indicator of intelligence, and yet EQ is not shown in the results of the SAT. The SAT also doesn’t take into account different learning curves or styles. Someone may need to take their time in order to gain any sort of understanding from reading a passage, but the time limit on the SAT prevents them from being able to do this, setting anyone with this particular learning style up for failure from the beginning. Continuing with the time limits, there are also many students who suffer from learning handicaps such as ADD or ADHD. Yes, the SAT does take into account these hindrances, but this is done by allowing more time to take the test. Allowing a student with ADHD more time to take the test without giving them any sort of outlet or alternative neurological stimulation will simply make them more restless and continue to deplete their attention. Due to these reasons, it is unfair to say that standardized testing is an accurate measure of intelligence. 

There are also many factors more important than standardized test scores that should be more heavily considered in applying to colleges. Even grades in school are better indicators of intelligence. An article from the Los Angeles Times states that “grades are the best single predictor of college performance and aren’t as heavily influenced as the standardized exams by income, parent education levels and race.” SATs don’t take into account the work ethic of a student in the way that grades do. It would be possible, even if not probable, to get an exceptional score on the SAT by simply guessing for every question, but it is also possible to spend hours studying, only to be presented with questions you have no idea how to solve. In course grades, at least, it is possible to see a student’s work ethic. If there are other students performing poorly in a class, but you are performing well, college admissions officers will be able to tell that you are making an effort to put in the time to work. The same analysis cannot be made on SAT scores. It is clear that the emphasis put on standardized test scores in measuring intelligence is unfair, especially in the world today. 

With the pandemic preventing many students from being able to take normal standardized tests, it is time to move away from unfair testing practices in the US. The intelligence of an individual should not be based on how well they can quickly solve a math problem, or how effectively they can analyze a passage. The time has come to evaluate standardized testing systems and realize that the importance placed on testing results in the United States places too much pressure on teens. Tests such as the SAT’s lack purpose in a society that is beginning to realize the differences in the way that students are able to learn. While we have a chance, we must step back and reevaluate the benefits of standardized testing.