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Opinion: Standardized tests flunk out as an objective measure of student intelligence

Institutionalized during the Chinese Han Dynasty, the civil service examination became the symbol of meritocracy and the hope for a new generation of talented elites to replace the old. In a time when positions were granted based on nepotism, political advantage or simply royal whim, such a standardized test may have seemed a godsend for…
<a href="" target="_self">Minseo Choi</a>

Minseo Choi

January 8, 2021

Institutionalized during the Chinese Han Dynasty, the civil service examination became the symbol of meritocracy and the hope for a new generation of talented elites to replace the old. In a time when positions were granted based on nepotism, political advantage or simply royal whim, such a standardized test may have seemed a godsend for those not already belonging to the entrenched elite. 

However, fast forward a couple of millennia, and standardized testing still holds the key to academic and subsequently vocational advancement. 

The problem is that though standardized testing may assess a student’s ability to conform to a particular subset of knowledge and skills, it ultimately falls short as an objective measure of student intelligence. 

With the potential for grade inflation, subjective assessment of student potential and not having clear benchmarks of ability, supporters of standardized testing argue it provides a solid framework to measure a student’s intellect. 

First of all, performance on standardized tests is heavily skewed by the student’s financial status.

Those coming from wealthy families have the luxury of having their academic aspirations financed, thus allowing them to attend esteemed academies. According to Bob Schaeffer, a closer look at the range of financial investment from parents wanting to prepare their children adequately for the SAT gives a clearer sense of just how unobjective standardized testing has become. 

More compelling evidence rendering the notion of a testing system that objectively assesses students’ intelligence invalid is that there is a positive measurable correlation between the students being richer and more successful on the SAT.

Even more conclusive evidence pointing to the advantage gap between financially well-off families and poorer ones centers on whether one’s location is affluent or not.

Undeniably, a clear polarity between the rich and poor manifests itself in terms of test-taking advantage, pointing to standardized tests not being an objective measure of student’s intelligence. 

In addition to biases stemming from wealth gaps, standardized testing fails to screen for various forms of intelligence.

Many educators have had the experience of not being able to reach some students until presenting the information in a completely different way of providing new options for student expression.

As even IQ tests are correlated with racial, cultural and socioeconomics biases, according to W. James Popham, it is logical to infer that the effectiveness of standardized testing in assessing intelligence may be adversely affected by the excessively narrow range of skills and knowledge such tests assess.

A classic example of cultural bias on the SAT was the analogy question “oarsman: regatta.” This question on the SAT which requires knowledge of vocabulary became controversial and manifested cultural bias, according to Matt Mccorkle.

These are words considered to be used most likely in the daily lives of affluent white students, causing less affluent minority students to be at a slight disadvantage.

Also, a student who might be predisposed to good test-taking might have the upper hand on a student less inclined to take tests well, based on the home environment and other factors that compound.

Thomas Armstrong then states a more extreme case of distressment, as he states that instead of learning something new or important, teachers are only spending time getting their students ready for the No Child Left Behind Law test since it will affect their job overall, unwillingly leaving art, social studies, physical education and other subjects behind, according to American Institute for Learning and Human Development.

As competitiveness rises between schools and students, the significance of other elements in studies that could be applicable in real lives is getting forgotten. 

Furthermore, standardized testing does not take into account the emotions or mindset of the test-taker, which can skew results. In reality, most tests are a microscopic assessment of a student’s ability. A student may have suffered a bereavement, be ailing or may indeed be prone to test anxiety more than their peers which may all warp the nature of their true ability.

Not everyone is a morning person and everyone has different times they concentrate best at. This affects the stimulation of full potential they could be showing without conditions set by the College Board. There are other various factors such as poor lighting causing headaches or the testing room being too cold or hot.

These are inevitable circumstances students have to deal with and it appears to be just like a wheel of fortune.

Since the College Board first debuted the SAT in 1926, the test has seen several revisions: originally named the Scholastic Aptitude Test, it was later called the Scholastic Assessment Test, then SAT I: Reasoning Test, then the SAT Reasoning Test, and now just the SAT, according to Halle Edwards. The name changes reflect the test maker’s concession that the SAT does not, in fact, measure student aptitude/intelligence.

Some might contest, however, that there is no finite way to measure any student’s intelligence, in whatever amount of myriad forms it may manifest itself, and thus the SAT is the most expedient way given the circumstances and necessities at hand.

Although it provides a convenient way to measure the objective of a student’s academic ability, there are options for academic competitions and contests that can directly assess the capability of students.

Hence, biases due to discrepancies in financial status, excessively narrow definitions of what constitutes intelligence and individual test anxiety or stress, standardized testing fail to assess students’ academic achievement.

The testing department therefore should consider making amendments to making the test more thought-provoking, broadening the range of subjects and the pressure of tests. 

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