When most of us think of tests, we think of tests in school. When we think of standardized tests, we think SAT, ACT, or similar exams used for admissions. What we are less likely to envision are the thousands of other standardized tests used for thousands of purposes. These tests range from the extremely broad (driver’s license test) to the highly specific: did you know a test is required to become a Certified Photogrammetric Technologist?
Nearly all standardized testing does the same thing: it assesses competency. It allows testers to demonstrate mastery—or the lack thereof. In some cases, the value of standardized testing seems undeniable. We feel more comfortable on airplanes flown by pilots who have passed tests certifying their ability to fly. We feel more confident seeing doctors and nurses who have passed tests certifying their knowledge of medical treatment. We feel safer when our military personnel and police officers have passed tests certifying their ability to safely operate firearms.
The inherent benefit of any type of standardized test is that it is, obviously, standardized. On the exam date, everyone receives the same exam. Everyone’s exam is scored on the same statistically designed scale. The test content is clearly defined according to established standards and extensively tested to eliminate bias (Sackett, 2018).
Standardized tests provide a necessary measure of objectivity. Test takers come in with a wide variety of backgrounds, training, and preparation. In a single day, sometimes in just an hour or two, a standardized test evaluates all test takers on consistent metrics. In nearly any field, standardized testing is the most practical way to remove subjectivity and achieve an objective evaluation.
When we narrow the conversation to standardized tests that are administered to students, whether K-12 or at a higher level, nothing changes. Standardized tests provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate competency and mastery. While the efficacy of specific tests and their utilization can be debated, the value of testing is clear: because educational standards vary across the country (and the world), standardized tests remain among the most efficient and effective tools for measuring student knowledge, ability, and achievement (Hattie, 2008).
Hattie, J. (2008). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses related to achievement. New York: Routledge.
Sackett, P. R., & Kuncel, N. R. (2018). Eight myths about standardized admissions testing. In Measuring Success: Testing, Grades, and the Future of College Admissions (pp. 13-39). Johns Hopkins University Press.
So true! Standardized testing is so important for providing important benchmarks for people to hit that will help them succeed.
As used in secondary education, standardized tests do, in fact, help teachers identify students who need specific help. The problem is when students are over tested. Since the ACT and SAT are nationally normed and provide specific benefits to students personally, I advocate for districts to simply use the ACT or SAT.
Spot on! How else can a college compare two students from different states taking completely different classes?
Testing certainly does have its place! I think a lot of the controversy comes from the overtesting imposed by the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top programs. These programs created a movement of people (mostly moms and dads of stressed out kids and teachers like me) who advocated to get rid of testing entirely. But let’s take a breath and work toward scaling back unnecessary testing rather than getting rid of the valuable tests that have made our society safer and fairer.
It is important and relevant for international students applying to US colleges. Without a common benchmark which they are familiar with, like an ACT or SAT, how is the admission committee of a school to evaluate students. They are certainly not always equipped to understand the academic rigour of an international school which they aren’t familiar with.
Standardized tests provide objective data points in students’ applications which feature more subjective and more difficult-to-compare aspects of grading and recommendations. Standardized tests are predictable and coachable and can be a great formative life lesson: students set goals, train for them, then, ideally, meet (or exceed) them. Learning the content and improving performance may lead to improved test scores but they are also great life lessons.