More on Standardized Testing

It was reported today that Pearson misgraded a good number of the SAT tests they had graded this year by up to 400 points (a full quarter of the 1600 possible total). The worst part of the story is that they only found out because two students complained. By this point, however, scores have already been reported to colleges in applications. And this isn’t the first time that the SATs have been misscored. Scores were done wrong for some students in Minnesota a few years ago causing them to be unable to graduate high school and sparking a lawsuit.

Why does our education system rely so heavily on standardized tests like the SAT? They are unable to accurately measure anything, yet we rely on them for everything from who gets to move to the next level of schooling to who gets into what colleges. There is a huge market in materials designed to give students the secret to high scores. Clearly there are some major problems with the system, and yet our education system relys on it more and more every year.

Why do we cling to this stupid system? Wouldn’t it make more sense for teachers, who presumably have a good grasp of how well their students are doing, to decide things like if a student should graduate high school? And what does it say about our college system that so many major schools ask only for test scores and grades to admit someone to college without requiring letters of recommendation or writing samples (essays). I think that only one of the colleges that I applied to six years ago actually required an interview. So what do colleges know about their applicants? Not a whole lot.

I just think that there needs to be a better system. I think that our current system of standardized tests is deeply flawed. Even if the tests truly were good at measuring anything, how can we rely on them so heavily when the scoring system is not only prone to inaccuracy, but missing any way of checking if the scoring is accurate? Students never see their tests again after they take them, so it isn’t very fair to rely on them to question their scores (especially when it is so difficult to do so even if you want to). Students cannot be expected to police the scoring system, particularly since they are so far removed from it.

If we want standardized test scores to mean anything (and given how the college application process works, I’m not convinced that it actually matters that they do), then the scoring needs to be consistant and accurate. I’m not reassured that the problems are fixed, especially given that they say that every time errors happen! I don’t understand the process well enough to be able to suggest a solution that has any hope of success, but someone must!

I would love to eliminate standardized tests completely, but barring that I still think the system needs to be heavily revamped. I find it rediculous that these problems are tolerated. There has to be a better way!


  1. Alan De Smet said,

    March 10, 2006 at 10:07 pm

    Colleges use standardized tests for the same reason large corporations use keyword searches on scanned resumes to find employees: it’s fast. Reading essays, analyzing letters of recommendation, that’s time consuming and can’t be done by a computer.

    As an added bonus standardized tests are, well, standardized. A set of good letters of recommendation might indicate a good student, or it might indicate teachers with a soft touch, teachers bought off by parents, or that the student who is “best in the class” just had a really crappy class. If many high schools already suffer grade inflation, why not letter of recommendation inflation? Essays? Too subjective. Many quite intelligent people aren’t terribly good at writing. And how will we judge a student’s aptitude for, say, math? High school grades fail us again thanks to inflation. Schools will be reduced to crafting tests they’ll force applicants to take. And to simplify they things, school could band together to create a single test, making it easy to take across the country. Viola, we’re back at standardized tests.

    Given that, standardized tests don’t need to be perfect, just Good Enough. Most people smart enough to attend a given school are smart enough to pass the initial filter on the standardized test. Some will be weeded out because of mistakes in grading. Some will be weeded out because the person is brilliant, just bad at that sort of exam. If the false negative rate (people weeded out who could have succeeded at the school) is low enough, it’s good enough. It sucks that legit people get bounced, but no system will be perfect. Good people will be bounced, be it because the test screwed up (and they foolishly didn’t retake the test), they didn’t get good recommendations, or whatever. A perfect system is not possible. Clearly we should work to improve the system, or possibly replace it with some better, but you’re up against the cost to implement changes.

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