Next month many high school juniors will take the SAT, and already thousands of families in our area have spent plenty of dollars to help their children prepare for the test, whether via workbook, group study session, private tutor, or other means. With all the time, effort, and attention paid to these and other standardized tests, one must wonder if they are truly indicators of the potential each student holds and whether they allow us to gain insight to our children's capacity for leadership and out-of-the-box thinking.
Many years ago I took the SAT. I went to sleep early the night before, woke up on time, had breakfast, and then went to school (on a Saturday!) with three finely sharpened number two pencils. The year was 1980 and I believe my score was 1,050 or 1,250. I’m not sure which, as it didn’t really matter to me.
Not that it wasn’t an important measurement of my abilities, it simply wasn’t anything I valued or to which I felt connected. Upon receiving my scores, I could take the test again (not a chance!) or submit them to the college(s) of my choice. I completed the SUNY application, chose four schools I thought might be a good fit, and mailed my application.
Though more than 30 years (and an unfathomable series of changes in the world) separate my SAT experience and that of the thousands of students who will do the same thing next month, I wonder to what degree the data from SATs and other standardized tests have actually served to benefit the students who take them and those who follow them in subsequent years. Is there any such goal articulated in the industry, any greater good than merely serving as an endless annuity for the testing companies and their associated industries.
Currently, the College Board offers a variety of test-prep resources, and I took a look at their question of the day to see if I could answer the sample question. I struggled, and couldn't quite figure it out quickly enough, and I became a bit confused in the process. I take no comfort in knowing that I was not alone.
Of the 81,385 respondents to the mathematics question, only 40% answered it correctly. Not so ironically, on the same page as the practice question the College Board also offers various test-prep resources for sale. Though I'm not concerned that I struggled to answer the question, I suspect many adolescents are, and that the placement and abundance of materials-for-fee add to their anxiety and the disproportionate value of these exams.
Elsewhere on a College Board web page, a free practice test is featured, and the reader is encouraged to “keep practicing with 10 additional tests.” The fee to do so: $69.95. Thinking that tests such as the SAT are balanced, in the best interest of all students, provide information that is not available through a student's transcript, and are anything much more than test taking skills (as opposed to content mastery): hmmm.
For those of us who value creativity and hands-on experiences, there seems to be little room for that in the current environment. Hopefully, upcoming assessments that measure a student's mastery of various intelligences will be the norm, moving us beyond the pencil and bubblesheet.