After another weekend with the SAT and a number of issues that have arisen, I have been thinking more deeply about the issue of standardized testing. This last weekend, as supervisor for the SAT, I had to turn away a student who did not bring a CD player for the language with listening portion of the test. This basically derailed her early deadline application.
As I sit here wondering if scores from the October SAT will be released and reading through the comments of my peers frustrated over the administration of standardized tests, I come back to the feeling that there must be a better way to determine whether a student has the acumen to perform in university.
In some ways the whole thing has become a sham, but we all march along because it is the system. As we all know, test prep has inflated test scores, students use all sorts of wily means to gain advantage on testing, agent issues, and a whole slew of other means to get into “dream” schools. And while I detest the idea of dream, since most students have no idea what that school is all about, I am far more concerned about the fact that we are all marching along.
In China, the average SAT score is around 2100, in an education system not geared toward the test. Students cram for TOEFL but cannot write an effective essay or understand the words on a university webpage to differentiate between programs and educational styles. Yet, students here also prep and prep worried that their peers are doing something different or better to score higher.
As Parke Muth pointed out in his blog When Foul is Fair, the amount of fraud conducted, not only in China, but other parts of the world, the system has gone wrong. And we march along waiting for something to change. We get incensed, as I did, when tens of thousands of students are subject to investigation because someone stole a test and provided it to an uncertain number of students, subjecting those students’ early applications to university. Yet, we march along knowing the system is broken to some degree.
The fact that students had to find an outdated piece of machinery, a CD player without recording capabilities, only highlights how antiquated the system is in the 21st Century. The fact that universities do not want to investigate or even ponder the fact that students use agents or illicit means to gain entry only infuriates me more. As Parke pointed out correctly, the education system in China is not geared toward the admission practices in the US. While more and more schools are moving in the direction of providing accurate transcripts and teachers writing letters of recommendation, a vast majority of schools and teachers are not. They can’t, and many won’t. Yet some schools truly believe that the students they have admitted to their campuses have been honest and forthright.
Maybe because I am writing this on a Monday morning and I am upset that I had to turn away my students for the lack of a machine used in the 1990s but regardless, I am tired of just marching along. While it is not quite the Bataan Death March, I do feel there is an end coming. I would love to see assessments that accurately portray a student’s ability to succeed. I would love to see the end of standardized testing. I would love to see a perfect world. I do know that we need, from the pinnacles of elite institutions to the frontline counselors and educators to reassess what it is exactly we are doing. By continuing the way we are we condone the multi-billion dollar industry of test prep (yes, I know that the New SAT hopes to change that) but the reality is that those companies will do whatever they can to readjust. Money is fuel to the fire.
I know for the moment I need to march along. I hope for changes and I hope for some reality. I would love for universities to invest in a much more balanced process. I wish that schools would stop playing along with things like ranking, which alters the reality in so many ways and by some means is the heart of this issue. I hope for the day when we all stop and ask, “what exactly are we doing?”
Photo: Thomas Flickr