The Real Standardized Testing Scandal

Robert Brooks Contributor
The Real Standardized Testing Scandal
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Cover: Public Domain

The SAT Debate: Given the fact that it’s been nearly impossible to administer standardized tests during a pandemic, several higher education institutions are choosing to forego testing scores as part of their applications. The deliberation over the ethics and value of standardized testing existed long before the coronavirus, but the present climate has stoked the flames of this contentious debate. With that said, the Wall Street Journal let students weigh in on the subject. Their responses and arguments are summarized below.

Those in favor of using standardized tests believe it provides an institution’s admissions office with an unbiased perspective of prospective students. The inherent nature of a numerical test score lends itself to a purely objective assessment of a candidate’s potential. Viraj Mehta, a student at Carnegie Mellon, admits “that the full context of an applicant’s life story should be considered … However, some triage of applications is necessary to sort likely candidates from the rest.” David Liu, a student at The University of Chicago, adds that standardized testing serves to supplement an American culture of meritocracy, where the hardest workers and most intelligent students are rewarded. He responds to criticism directed at the apparent inequality of standardized tests by saying, “[this critical energy] should be focused on leveling the playing field, not hiding the scoreboard; on giving people more of an equal start, not doing away with the race altogether.”

Those against standardized testing overwhelmingly point to the racial and socio-economic disparities in the scoring system. Currently, students in wealthier communities and schools receive higher scores, and this has been a leading criticism against standardized tests for years. Shoshi Hansen, a student at Wake Forest University, explains that, “Parents can and do spend thousands of dollars…to maximize scores. Lower-income families often do not have the [resources] to invest in these materials, at least not to the same extent.” Amid the pandemic, some have also highlighted that the testing requirement would only become a greater barrier to college admission. Rebecca Leppert, a student at George Washington University, explains that with “more than 35 million Americans [filing] for unemployment…the disparity in test scores will only worsen.” Plainly stated, lower-income families who may be disproportionately impacted by job losses would find it even more burdensome to access the resources needed to boost test scores.

Flag This: There’s no way a number will ever be able to quantify the value of a potential student. The Virgin Group founder, Richard Branson dropped out of high school at 15. He’s now worth nearly $5 billion. David Karp also dropped out at 15 and developed Tumblr, the blog-hosting and social network company which he ultimately sold to Yahoo for $1.1 billion. Aretha Franklin, Joe Lewis, and Quentin Tarantino also all dropped out of high school when they were 15 years old. The point is that they likely never even took the SAT and they did pretty well for themselves. At the same time, college applications are reaching all-time highs and there has to be a way to sort through candidates. The real scandal that needs more review is the College Board’s role in the process. Long time readers will remember that in November we noted how the College Board is using SAT data to tell test-takers’ names and personal information to universities. In a nutshell, colleges can buy student information for 47 cents per name. They will then target these candidates with marketing materials for their schools, knowing that the student may not get in. This increases the amount of applications a college processes, even though the amount of students they admit stays the same. This makes their “acceptance rate” lower and more exclusive, which hypothetically indicates that the college has greater value, thus justifying the rising cost of tuition. The SAT debate is healthy and should continue to be discussed. The college board backroom data swapping is a way to rig the system that needs to be investigated further.