The removal of standardized testing: is there no alternative?

The weaknesses of standardized testing are blatant, but it is possible to solve these issues without removing standardized tests altogether.

In the United States, standardized test scores have been a large factor in the college admissions process. However, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of universities announced the suspension of such testing requirements for fall 2021 and future years. As these exams are currently no longer an admissions requirement, it has become important to map out potential solutions that allow admissions processes to maintain an objective measure of performance while addressing the failings of the SAT and ACT.

SAT and ACT scores have still maintained relevance by providing a measurement that “levels the playing field and counters grade subjectivity and inflation,” according to ACT. True at first glance, it does not address how these standardized tests fail to evaluate performance over time as the exams occur within a few hours of a single day. 

These tests have also been long criticized for disadvantages toward low income students. Such disadvantages are often attributed to test preparation, or the lack thereof. High quality preparation courses require large investments of time and money, and are unavailable for low income students. It is also important to note that these courses only focus on improving test taking skills, according to FairTest. This limits students in creativity and learning potential as they only concentrate on passing rather than focusing on understanding topics. 

A feasible alternative is a test that highlights topics that are already taught in the state curriculum. An example of this is the Smarter Balanced exam. It is free of charge, which makes it more accessible for those who cannot afford the SAT, ACT or test preparation tools. Since higher quality test preparation is typically more expensive and unavailable for low income students, these qualities make it a potential alternative to the SAT or ACT in college admissions. Such qualities should be incorporated to fix the current options of standardized testing. 

A truly holistic objective evaluation of student performance could combine the benefits of the Smarter Balanced Exam with those of the New York Performance Standards Consortium. The New York Performance Standards Consortium focuses on project based learning as students research topics of interest in-depth of each subject. To “demonstrate college and career readiness,” it requires students to complete assessments that include an “analytic literature essay, social studies research paper, a student designed science experiment, and high-level mathematics problems with real world applications,” according to The Washington Post. 

Assessments such as these are ultimately more valuable than test scores claimed by taking hours-long multiple choice exams with not many real world applications. This not only allows for students to utilize their own creativity, but also eliminates the idea of “teaching to the test”. This approach is problematic as it does not aim to promote in-depth learning; the assessments by the New York Performance Standards Consortium address this issue effectively inasmuch as they make questions more relevant to students. 

Obviously, making such an immense change from years of holding SAT and ACT tests at such a high caliber will not be without effort, but the recent implementation of test optional policies is a start. As universities are moving away from these exams in the admissions process, it is time to change how standardized testing is administered and implement reasonable alternatives. 

By Sarah Lew, Print Editor-in-chief
Editorial Cartoon by Remy Wong