Standardized tests seem to be universally disliked. Students hate studying for them, hate taking the myriad practice tests that instructors (or their parents) will frequently require, hate the tests themselves, hate waiting weeks for the results, and, depending on how they did, hate re-taking the tests for a better score. Teachers don’t seem to like teaching for them, and all sorts of educational experts believe they’re inherently biased. So why do they continue to dominate the high school educational experience?
The usefulness of certain tests, like the AP Exams, is somewhat self-evident. Get a qualifying score and you get college credit. Some students start college with so many AP credits, they’re sophomores they second they set foot on campus. In a time when the four-year college degree is quickly becoming the five-year college degree, entering college with credits is a smart way for students to save time and money. Since college-bound students are likely taking AP courses anyway to increase their chances for college admission, it makes sense they would also take the corresponding AP exams. A few hours filling out bubbles could save a semester’s worth of classes. Not bad.
Similarly, the SAT is something of a necessary evil for any college-bound high school student. Great SAT scores can not only help a student gain admission to his or her top-choice colleges, it can also help him or her qualify for certain merit-based scholarships. Some students take the SAT so seriously, they enroll in full-on preparation courses for the exam, like it’s the Bar exam or the MCAT. Prepartion for the SAT can last months or even years, with some students taking the PSAT their sophomore year and taking the SAT multiple times during their junior and senior years in the hopes of getting a better score.
California high school students have yet another layer of standardized to undergo before they can move on to college. In addition to college entrance and readiness exams like the AP tests or the SAT and ACT, they must also pass the CAHSEE, the California High School Exit Examination. The CAHSEE claims to measure student achievement in English and mathematics, but most teachers (and college admissions officers) would agree that you really need to look at a student’s grades (along with the kinds of courses they took; sometimes a B in an honors class can show a higher level of achievement than a A in a regular class; course difficulty can also vary by school) along with standardized test scores to get a picture of a student’s level of achievement in any subject.
So if California students need the CAHSEE to finish, and American, college-bound students need the SAT to get into college (most of the time), and college students who are hoping to finish a degree in four years would be wise to enter college with some AP credits, the answer to the question: “what good are standardized tests?” may just be: “stop asking so many questions and start filling in these bubbles.”