I don’t know about any of you, but the standardized testing that monstrously consumed my junior year of high school was absolutely miserable. The trauma of this dark time in my life still lingers today! There’s just no way for a bad test taker like me to truly showcase all of my capabilities on that one booklet on that one Saturday morning. I personally feel that a numerical score should not define people in the eyes of college admissions workers. Can the ACT and SAT truly gauge college readiness?
While the SAT and ACT are structured in different ways, they attempt to measure the same thing: aptitude. This Washington Post article delves deeper into the idea of “aptitude” in terms of standardized testing. The SAT, which formerly stood for “scholastic aptitude test,” was created with the intent to test college readiness. Basically, creating questions that would evoke the use of academic concepts and logical skills that would be necessary to succeed in college. However, they eventually dropped this acronym when they discovered that aptitude is more than just problem solving or the memorization of facts. So… what is aptitude?
Aptitude is intelligence, as one of the most important indicators of college readiness is the ability to obtain good grades and graduate. According to a longitudinal observational study discussed in this PBS News article, standardized tests are not able to properly measure this necessary signal for success. Bates College, an institution that has decided to go “test optional” (meaning it isn’t mandatory to report your test scores), followed a group of students who did submit their scores and a group of students who abstained from sharing their scores through their four years. Throughout their journey, they compared the two group’s GPAs. Finally at graduation, it was discovered that the GPA’s of the test submitters were only a mere .05 percent of a GPA point higher than the students who didn’t report their scores. Therefore, this study shows that a test score cannot sufficiently measure intelligence, at least in terms of grades. With a scientific mindset, this would make sense. In science, the more random samples that are taken, the more accurate the consensus will be. Thus, we would expect a GPA, which is basically an accumulation of samples over the course of four years, to be more reflective of a score sampled from one day of someone’s life.
Aptitude is motivation. In order to succeed in college, it’s imperative to be self-driven. However, this PrepScholar blog sheds light on a critical downfall in the ability of standardized test to gauge someone’s proficiency to persevere. The blog asks, how would a college admissions worker determine the kid who got a high score naturally from a kid who worked hard to achieve their high score? This is a very important question that reveals the dark truth of how general a test score really is. A student’s motivation, work ethic, time management, and even creativity are all unaccounted for in a simple number. These are qualities that a college should be looking for, in my opinion and in the opinion of many universities that have decided to go “test optional.” Yes, it is very possible for the naturally high scoring kid to also possess these redeeming qualities, but the test score doesn’t definitely insure that. Therefore, test scores are not the most ideal way to measure the determination aspect of aptitude that would indicate college readiness.
Finally, a confounding variable to high performance in test scores could be resources, which could distort the aptitude conveyed in the score. There has been an extreme amount of scientific and statistical analysis on the correlation between family income and test scores, which is based on the assumption that tutoring or other test taking resources put higher income students at an unfair advantage. This New York Times article accumulated research from various studies to produce the graph shown to the right. The findings clearly illustrate a strong positive correlation between family income and test scores, as the highest income bracket in math for example scored 122 points higher than the lowest income bracket. The New York Times also reported that the R-squared value of the study was about .95, which is extremely significant. For anyone unfamiliar with statistics, the R-squared value tells how much of the variance in test scores is attributed to family income. Therefore, the fact that this number is as high as 95% is evidence of a close correlation between test scores and family income.
In all, the science screams that standardized testing is not a sufficient way to measure college readiness. While there must be some method to the madness because smart people who get good test scores do usually succeed in college, science tells us that there is always the possibility to revise a former theory no matter how much time it has stood before. Personally, I’m excited to see what the future holds in a “test optional” world in terms of developing more holistic measurements to better assess the capability of an individual to succeed in college.