Testing the Untestable: Can College Preparedness Be Measured?

Zoha Syed

“Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.” The clock in the testing room beats with a steady rhythm. The hum of pencils scratching paper permeates the room. A proctor stands at the front, like a hawk, periodically scanning the room for students that are out of line. The writing begins to subside.

“Pencils down, you have now completed section two,” the proctor said.

Students take a sigh of relief then gulp as they await another round of test taking.

Standardized tests have been a permanent fixture in the realm of academia. The most notable of these tests is the SAT, an entrance exam designed to measure a student’s readiness for college. Started in 1901 by the College Entrance Examination Board, millions of students take the SAT this year, making it the quintessential component of the standardized testing process.

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Credit: freedigitalphotos.net
Arvind Balaraman

Amid a sea of tests, arose the same question over and over again. The validity of standardized tests is an ongoing debate that continues to rear its head during each college admissions cycle. A great bulk of the issue centers on whether a test can actually provide a feasible, quantitative measure of student’s success. This assertion is debatable.

One common derivation of student success arises in the definition of “college readiness” which is what standardized tests like the SAT often aim to measure. However, since college readiness is such a broad term, the fact that such a narrow means of measurement would have any capability of quantifying it is misconstrued.

“The goal of standardized testing, as explained by the SAT, is to measure college readiness,” Atticus Liu, a senior at Redmond High School, said. “I see that as an understandable goal, but whether or not the SAT actually [measures] college readiness is a completely different discussion. A few hours of testing isn’t exactly a great measuring stick for several years of schooling.”

College readiness may be defined in a variety of ways; it could mean being ready academically, yet it could also have connotations of something beyond the scope of academia, such as being mentally prepared for college. The transition to a four-year university has implications beyond more difficult course material. A student may be leaving home for the first time, thus college readiness may be synonymous with courage. Similarly, going to a university may involve responsibility which may be another facet of “college readiness.”

Yet, the effectiveness of standardized testing goes beyond that of “college readiness.” A test itself is designed to measure the abilities of a student in some way, shape or form. Ability, in terms of standardized tests, becomes something very one dimensional. Through the process of attempting to “measure” knowledge, a test resorts to devised questions centered on a certain criteria of assessment.

A key component of “ability” that possesses great importance, that being effort, becomes diminished.

“If a student tries their hardest on that test, it would give them a fairly decent estimate of where they stand with respect to the student population as a whole,” Grace Chen, a prospective computer science student at the University of Washington, said. “On the other hand, if a student doesn’t try at all, they could be fairly smart, but the test would show that they are not.”

The fact that a standardized test begins to show characteristics of non-standardization begins to convey their incapability at times to be useful. It may be said that effort is an entity that is immeasurable; in the pursuit of quantification it remains a mystery as to what could exactly measure a student’s effort.

However, effort is something that goes hand-in-hand with “college readiness”; it’s a component that is synonymous with responsibility and, most importantly, work ethic. The fact that standardized tests often sweep this trait under the rug serves as the crucial foundation in the argument against their validity.

Success is something that cannot be measured in any form; numerous attempts may be made at its quantification, such as with standardized tests. However, because success is holistic in nature, a logic-based, set-in-stone method of measurement such as a standardized test would not be able to quantify it. A test fails to take into account key traits of a student, like effort, and work ethic. Thus a test ends up falling short.

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