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Should standardized tests be the standard?

Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.

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  • ACT test dates: Oct. 25 and Dec. 13. Register for the October test by Sept. 19 and for the December test by Nov. 7. ACT (www.actstudent.org): $31 and $46 with writing.

    SAT test dates: Oct. 4, Nov. 1 and Dec. 6. Respective registration deadlines are Sept. 9, Sept 26 and Nov. 5. SAT (www.collegeboard.com): $45. SAT Subject Tests/Registration Fee: $20 & $9 per test, Language Test: $20


Much has been written about the diminished value colleges place on standardized tests such as the SAT and the ACT.

There's even an organization (www.fairtest.org) whose mission is to “end the misuses and flaws of standardized tests” and remove these tests from the college application mix. Fairtest, based in Cambridge, Mass., places “special emphasis on eliminating the racial, class, gender, and cultural barriers… posed by standardized tests.”

It's true that there are more and more colleges, though mostly small private ones, that consider themselves “test-optional” – which means that students may submit their test scores but will not be penalized if they choose not to submit them. Check out this link for the list of test-optional colleges at http://www.fairtest.org/univ/optional.htm.

Wake Forest, the only top 30 national university with a test-optional policy, recently made splashy headlines when it decided to join this group. Wake Forest defended its decision by saying that test scores are not an effective way to measure anticipated success in college.

The pro-testing side, led by testing organizations and test prep services, promotes the standardized tests as the only fair way to compare students from different schools in different states with wildly different curriculums. While the SAT and ACT standardized tests can provide a valuable benchmark of academic performance, there is no question that the tests can also be mastered.

Students can be taught strategies to enhance their scores. Test prep favors the well heeled and the well prepared. In our era of political correctness, this one fact has been the call to action for many to join the anti-standardized test movement.

How important are the tests in the decision-making process? It definitely varies from college to college, but according to many admissions officials, the tests are “not nearly as important as students or parents believe.”

Students and parents will hear this at college information sessions, particularly at many smaller and/or private colleges. There is no question that there are colleges that rely heavily on these standardized tests. When the test scores are in sync with a student's grade-point average, many large colleges and universities feel that they have sufficient information to make a decision based on this objective criteria.

However, when a college offers students an opportunity to write one or more essays, places a high value on teacher recommendations, interviews candidates, and requests submission of samples of their artwork, the importance of test scores slides down a notch or two.

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