The Chance to Demonstrate

Springtime means SAT season, since it is required for every Colorado student, and along with standardized testing comes high levels of stress for both students and parents. The SAT is administered to students in order to measure if their critical thinking skills are “college ready,” and is an important part of the college admission process. It takes a lot of work to prepare for the SAT, as evidenced by the plethora of SAT preparatory classes, available practice books, and even extra tutoring options. However, many students are still struggling to make their SAT scores parallel their in-class grades.

As previously mentioned, the SAT test is, according to the official College Board page, administered in order to survey a student’s ability to intelligently find the meaning of a passage through using skill like using textual evidence to reveal the deeper meaning, dissecting complex word choice and style, or using prior contextual knowledge to discern the deeper meaning of a text.

These abilities are crucial to succeed in higher educational opportunities, and so testing a student to make sure these skills have been taught by educational establishments before entering college is extremely important. However, though 70% of high school students graduate, only 42% of students who take the SAT meet the College Board’s “college and career readiness” benchmark (America’s Promised Alliance).

Many individuals on both liberal and conservative sides try to explain this gap in various by alternating between blaming the teaching system to blaming the test itself, but there is one explanation to this gap that is passed over again and again: our students aren’t horrible test-takers, they just don’t have enough time to prove their intelligence.

As stated by speed reading expert Dr. Richard Feldman, a student will need to posses a reading speed of 200 words per minute in order to get to get through the reading passages of the SAT. This speed doesn’t include the time needed to carefully consider the challenging multiple choice questions, to re-read difficult passages, or to take extra time in order to consider a graphic or chart. According to Reading Horizons, the average junior in high school only possesses a reading speed of 237. That standard barely gives the students enough time to quickly scan the entire passage, much less taking the time to adequately prove the analytical skills that students have been taught over their whole educational career.

This small window of time suggests a test of innate intelligence, rather than the mastery of certain skills, since only students naturally inclined towards reading faster will be able to get through the whole test, while students who get good grades through longer hours of hard work and extra effort will be unable to get through. These students are often encouraged by parents or teachers to take speed reading classes to close that natural gap.

However, reading speed classes have been proved by multiple studies to have no significant impact, one of which stating that “students made minimal improvements in reading rate and/or comprehension and the improvements that were made did not generalize to unpracticed passages” (Mercer).

The question we need to be asking is, should standardized tests be measuring innate intelligence or the mastery of certain skills? The goals set forth by the SAT are focused on demonstrating a student’s problem-solving skills, but the time frame set for students doesn’t reflect this goal. The SAT isn’t an IQ test; it’s supposed to measure how much a student has been taught for colleges, not the skills a student has already been born with.

If students don’t even have the chance to finish the SAT, how are they supposed to demonstrate the education they have received? There are many ways to solve this problem, from giving the student more time, to perhaps taking out one of the five reading passages out in order to make more time for the comprehension of the others. Our standardized tests should be challenging in order to accurately measure the application of education, but the time limit should be changed to give students who have worked hard for their grades a chance to succeed in the way they have worked for.
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