Last summer, I was at a cocktail party listening to a group of parents discuss their kids’ latest dilemmas and successes. As I quietly listened to the highs and lows of each family, I tried to back away towards the appetizer table before anyone asked what I do for a living.
It was mid-July, the time in summer when relief about ‘end of school’ morphs into feelings of anxiety about upcoming academic expectations. It’s a time where the data from educational evaluations yield recommendations from the raw data. It’s a time where parents start worrying about reading comprehension, internships, and extracurriculars to pad their child’s school resume. And for high schoolers in particular, it’s the time of the dreaded, high stakes standardized tests.
Why I hate standardized tests
Full disclosure here, I have coached hundreds and hundreds of kids and young adults on how to ace standardized tests, I've even written questions for some of these tests. Obviously I have taken many of these tests in my own education and career.
I also took every standardized test I coached students on. I did this to keep the information fresh and remind myself how it feels to encounter a ‘stumper’ of a test question. But I hate standardized tests. I hate everything about them.
First of all, standardized tests are NOT a measure of intelligence. Read that line again! Standardized tests are simply a snapshot that shows how well you performed on a given day in a given environment.
Standardized tests are NOT aptitude tests, which supposedly tell how successful a person will be in the near future. We all know people who performed poorly on standardized tests and became incredible individuals, as well as people who aced the test but never did much more. I remember a guy in my high school class from 198X who people paid to take the SAT for them (yeah, that was a thing in the 80s), but that’s a story for another day.
Access to standardized test prep classes
And don’t get me started on the mishmosh of access to tutoring for these tests. The disparity is unavoidable. People who have access to GOOD one-on-one tutoring outperform those who have access to GOOD commercial prep classes or GOOD in-school courses. By the way, schools frequently use outdated materials or info…a box of “high yield vocabulary cards” is a red flag…don’t waste your money.
But some kids don’t have access to any of these resources. Does that make them dumb or unworthy of a school looking at them? ABSOLUTELY NOT. I have worked with people from all over the social/economic strata, and the bottom line is neither intelligence nor aptitude cannot be determined by a standardized test.
PSAT, SAT, ACT, APs, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, VCAT, ISEE, COOP, SSAT. It’s a lifelong litany of measuring up to someone else’s flawed measuring stick. Fortunately, the US seems to be moving away from these artificial markers of intellect.
And perhaps one benefit of living through a pandemic is to make as many of these tests as obsolete as possible and devise more creative, high order methods to measure individual intelligence.
Begone, and good riddance!-Mary