Whether they are state-mandated throughout elementary, middle and high school or required for college admissions, every student in America knows the horror of standardized testing. These high-stakes tests often determine whether a student has to retake a class, graduate to the next level in education or even gain admission status into undergraduate or graduate-level universities.
I've been a slave to standardized tests throughout my entire academic career, with no signs of stopping anytime soon. Virginia requires students to begin taking "SOLs" (aka "Standards of Learning" tests) as early as fifth grade, in subjects such as math, English and social studies. SOLs later expand in middle and high school to involve subjects like history and science. Not only did they put a HUGE amount of stress on my peers and me throughout school, but the SOLs also decreased the quality of our education by strictly confining what we learned. We only studied the material within the SOL tests, with absolutely no deviation - which also put the emphasis on memorization of certain facts, rather than on actually breaking down concepts and analyzing them for complete understanding.
As college application season dawned upon us, it only got worse. The SOLs that we were used to turned into a whole new monster that we were not prepared for: the SATs and ACTs. The stakes for these tests are even higher since your scores mandate what colleges you might potentially get into and, therefore, what you end up studying for four years as your future career. After graduating with my bachelor's degree, I thought I was free from the grasp of standardized tests, but alas, I was too optimistic - I found myself yet again in a place of high stakes and even higher levels of stress within the world of graduate tests, such as the GRE and the LSAT.
After experiencing these tests, I found myself asking why they are even necessary in the first place - as if a single test with predetermined subjects and scoring systems could effectively predict what kind of student I would be. And fortunately, I'm not the only one asking these questions and coming to the same conclusion that standardized tests only serve to hurt students and their quality of education.
One of the major arguments against standardized testing is that they are simply too high-stakes and that they put an unnecessarily high amount of pressure and stress on students - which I definitely agree with. Because students know that their scores can affect their future in major ways, they often resort to doing whatever they can to earn high marks, such as taking performance drugs, sacrificing eating and sleeping to study and cheating. (And, in light of certain events, we know it's not only the students who resort to cheating to earn high scores on these tests...I'm looking at you, Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffman.) The stress of one test dictating your future academic and professional career, as well as the pressure on students to demonstrate their knowledge and represent the effectiveness of their own educators, is extremely toxic. Students have thrown up, cried and even experienced anxiety attacks or other mental breakdowns to the point of being committed to a hospital or mental institution due to this stress, which is simply unacceptable.
In addition to paramount levels of stress and pressure, these tests can make students internalize feelings of failure or worthlessness if they don't score well. Standardized tests are designed to fail certain portions of test-takers because they only test for certain skills and subjects - and due to their high-stakes nature, students who fail or score low on standardized tests are made to feel like they're stupid and worthless. I felt so bad about myself throughout school because I was a terrible test-taker and really bad at subjects like math and science. I would always score the bare minimum to pass on my SOLs and felt so extremely stupid - I remember sobbing when I saw my SAT scores because they were so low compared to my friends' scores, as well as compared to the score requirements for the colleges I wanted to attend. I legitimately thought I was stupid and worthless until college where I was able to study and take classes in what I loved and was able to maintain a high GPA and graduate with honors. This made me realize I wasn't stupid at all - it's just the nature of standardized tests to only celebrate certain types of subjects and learners.
Moreover, the National Association for College Admission Counseling published a study that found evidence that test-optional policies (policies that don't require students to submit their SAT or GRE scores during the admissions process) help colleges to improve their diversity without sacrificing academic quality in a way that standardized tests simply do not.
Millions of the students who take standardized tests come from different cultures, different economic backgrounds, different levels of proficiency in subjects, different learning and thinking styles, etc. yet are treated identically in the testing process. Not only do standardized tests only favor a certain kind of student who has one specific learning style or aptitude for a certain subject, they heavily favor those who have socioeconomic advantages. As if the tests themselves weren't expensive enough, the manufacturers of these tests also manufacture and sell the courses and programs that "prepare" for the test. People with economic advantages can pay for specialty test tutors and other courses - and if they attend a well-funded suburban school, they are receiving better test preparation and education in general compared to those in a lower economic bracket, which is blatant discrimination.
The study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that schools that don't require standardized test scores saw increased enrollment of underrepresented students of color compared to schools that did require scores. Furthermore, the study found that students who had lower test scores/who did not submit a test score were just as likely to graduate as students who did. Additionally, the study concluded that measuring GPA is a far more accurate way of predicting success in college than test scores are.
As more and more people realize the discriminatory and ineffective nature of standardized testing, many universities are dumping their score requirements for admissions (with graduate schools slowly jumping on the bandwagon as well). I hope, not only for myself and my future academic career, but for soon-to-be students all across the country, that the systemic institutional failures that built up standardized testing to be what it is today are speedily destroyed. The only way to truly help students learn and prepare them for higher education is to enact holistic policies and practices that are corrective and redistributive of all the money, time and potential that has been wasted thus far.
Our society needs to stop teaching students that their academic and professional value is dictated by test scores and start recognizing and celebrating all kinds of students from different backgrounds and cultures, who have different learning methods and skill sets outside of a few specific subjects. It's time to abolish standardized tests in our schools and universities - they have no place in the modern world.