Why standardized testing is flawed and must be reformed

by Yethmie Goonatilleke, Editor-In-Chief

In the span of four days in March, the junior class sat through nearly six hours of standardized testing. The following week, a handful of juniors took the SAT —an additional three hours of testing. As I sat through these tests, answering each multiple choice question, filling in my scantron sheet bubble after bubble, and glancing at the time quickly passing by, I started to question the validity of standardized testing — a matter I have been questioning for a while now. 

Standardized testing was first introduced in the United States as a method of formally assessing student achievement. Due to its objective nature, standardized testing is widely used across the country. Oftentimes, teachers and schools use varied grading scales and methods that can easily lead to subjective grading. Standardized testing attempts to equalize grading and fairly compare student achievement. While maintaining this sense of objectivity makes sense, standardized testing fails to look at a holistic view of student achievement, and instead unfairly caters to certain demographics. 

Most forms of standardized testing use test questions that would allow for unbiased grading, such as multiple choice questions or true or false questions. This allows for objective grading, but what if a student wasn’t particularly strong at answering these types of questions, and fares better at open-ended and essay type questions? Many students aren’t “test-taking” people, and might prefer other assignments that demonstrate student achievement. We’re told as students that certain tests don’t define who we are. Yet when it comes down to it, these tests sometimes act as the only indicators of our performance. For example, the NJGPA (New Jersey Graduated Proficiency Assessment) was introduced this year and high school students must pass the test in order to graduate. 

Besides a test’s content, certain standardized tests can be indirectly inequitable. In college entrance exams such as the SAT or ACT, it’s incredibly important to maintain objectivity. And while these tests are composed of multiple choice questions, certain external factors have made these tests less standardized than they hope to be. A glaring example is disparities in income. Students in lower socioeconomic classes have been found to perform worse on college entrance tests than students in higher socioeconomic classes. According to Mark Kantrowitz, a writer for Forbes, students with a family income of $100,000 are more likely to score an SAT score of 1400-1600 compared to a student with a family income of $50,000.

I’ve heard stories from fellow peers who talk about how their parents spent hundreds of dollars on test preparation tutoring. While receiving tutoring is in no way a bad thing, it seems unfair that only certain students have this advantage. How can a test be standardized and truly reveal and compare student achievement, if certain demographics have the means to receive additional help? The college admissions process, of course, strives to be as fair as possible. Yet factors such as income aren’t thoroughly considered and create unfair circumstances. Going forth, these external factors that make standardized tests ineffective need to be more fully addressed. 

Even if a standardized test allows for zero-subjectivity within the grading process, standardized testing poses a problem of inequity. While it seems like there is no proper solution to this issue, some action has already been taken. Regarding college-entrance exams like the SAT, some free and accessible resources have been created within the past few years. For example, Khan Academy partnered with the Collegeboard to create free SAT preparation and practice online. When it comes down to it, there will always be external factors that make standardized testing unfair to some students. To combat this, organizations and schools should strive to make education a more equitable experience for all — meaning that all students receive the proper resources based on individual needs. 

I don’t think it’s necessary for standardized testing to be removed from the education system, but its many flaws (especially targeting certain demographics) must be addressed. There are benefits to standardized testing, but in order for the tests to achieve their main goals, they must go under certain reforms.