Since 1984, Bates College has been SAT-optional. It’s a point of pride for us, recognizing that standardized tests may not be the best way to gauge an applicant’s potential for success. A comprehensive 20-year-long study demonstrated exactly this, showing that the difference in graduation rates between exam submitters and non-submitters was 0.1% (one-tenth of one percent), and also led to an increased application rate from a more diverse applicant pool. These sorts of exams appear to be a nearly negligible factor as opposed to a sacred litmus test of sorts (as some colleges and universities insist on treating them), while also further diversifying the study body. Making these standardized exams optional seems to be, if anything, a technique to consider the relevant factors when deciding an applicant’s potential and fit for a college. As such, more and more colleges are adding their names to the list of colleges that are exam-optional.
On October 24th, President Obama touched on this issue, with an emphasis on standardized testing in early education. The President’s announcement indicated a reevaluation of the standardized exams currently required, with a particular focus on the amount of exams, the sorts of exams administered, and the length of classroom time devoted to preparing for these exams. It’s worthwhile to consider why a curb might be more beneficial than a complete overhaul of standardized exams. While it’s easy to criticize them, we must remember that these exams do serve a functional purpose.
Standardized tests are, by definition, exams that are given to students nationwide or statewide in order to test performance among various populations. These sorts of exams can help to make sure that one community’s resources, for instance, are not significantly different from those of other comparable schools. They can also be of great assistance when ranking states’ performances, something that can (and hopefully should) be an indicator to policymakers if their state’s students start falling behind other comparable states. Why then would we want to curb back on these apparently useful exams, something that seems to be an incredible way to see students’ varying performances on large scales to note differences in the quality of education? The answer: these exams can actually get in the way of education.
A report reviewing the 66 largest school districts in the nation found that between grades K-12 students in the United States take, on average, about 112 standardized exams. This, of course, isn’t even considering supplemental diagnostic exams and other teacher-created or school-created exams that are given to students, as well as other exams that are given to some students and not others. Now consider all of the classroom time that must be spent preparing for these 112 mandated standardized exams, time that is taking away from encouraging creativity and critical thinking, focusing students’ efforts instead on being “taught to a test.”
This national recognition of America’s obsession with standardized exams is the first step to realizing the trap we, as a society, have fallen into. As President Obama mentioned in his announcement to the public, the teachers that students remember and who make an impact are those who inspire their students. This is only the first step in once again reminding ourselves the importance of education, and its true purpose of crafting passionate and conscientious global citizens ready to take on the world, not students who’ve been conditioned to show up with a No. 2 pencil to an exam with their life ambitions fading away from them.