If you’re a high school student with any intention to do well on the SAT, ACT, AP EOCT, ABCD, ZYXW or whatever acronym is for whatever standardized test it is, you may, from time to time (or often), find yourself amidst a conversation that goes something like:
“Did you take the SAT last month?”
“Yeah. Did you?”
“Yeah. How was it for you?”
“Good. I didn’t do too well. Barely above an 1800.”
“Oh. That’s not too bad.”
“I suppose. How did you do?”
“I cleared 2000.”
Whether you wanted to or not, it’s most likely you’ve revealed your standardized test scores to someone other than your grader. Perhaps you said your score with a bit of shame, knowing that you didn’t surpass your own target or some other person’s standards. You may have said it with confidence, knowing that it was a relatively phenomenal score. Either way, one can beg the question, what constitutes a good score? Can we find a definite answer to that question?
We know that a 2400 is a good score. We know that 600 is the lowest score you can get. So we definitely know the quality of these scores, and that these scores are very unlikely. The easiest answer would be that it depends on what your own target is. Is it your goal to get into your state school? Depending on what state you’re in, your target score probably doesn’t need to be higher than someone, say, trying to get into Stanford. So to one, a 2000 may be good enough, while to the other it’s possibly just lower than it should be.
I’m more interested in why we have these scores in the first place. Why is it that we need standardized tests? Aren’t the best educational institutions in the world in praise of independent, unique, and specialized education? If differences are celebrated, why is that we need to conform to tests that don’t account for our backgrounds, interests, schools, teachers, and other influences reflected in the results of such tests?
The explanation most often given is that it’s the best system we have. Like democracy, standardized testing isn’t the best option, but of the alternatives we have, it’s comparatively awesome. Sure, we can’t account for anything other than how much time you’ve had to practice vocabulary words and what kind of math program you were placed into just before middle school, but it’s the best we’ve got.
I don’t think that’s good enough. There are ways to measure “qualification” better than a nation-wide standardized test can. It’s not like an alternative to democracy in that we can, with relative ease, implement it in the United States. The most ideal of situations would involve no tests or examinations—one’s applications would just consist of essays (or videos, recordings, or another form of communication), recommendations (from anyone), and a record of how the student did in high school (during which, classes used alternative evaluation exercises). Unfortunately, we are much too embedded in a culture of examinations, competitions, and winning that we probably will not see this happen for centuries.
As more of a realist, I would suggest highly individualized exams geared toward each school. Each high school would be required to create a comprehensive exam (in terms of the school’s materials covered) to be administered twice each school year, and instead of score reports, each student would be placed on a bell curve relating that student to every other student in that school. To some extremists who want to see the end of all such traditional evaluations, this is still not an ideal situation, but in our culture, everyone needs some satisfaction that only comes from doing well on tests taken by others.
The difference in nation-wide standardized tests and the alternative method is that each school would be better suited to determine the progress, achievement, knowledge, study habits, and examination procedure of its own students. Instead, an independent agency that charges hundreds of dollars to each student, filled with test-makers who have been out of school for far longer than is acceptable to understand the current material of study, and having them spread across an entire nation is probably not the best judge of any student.
Do you have a better solution? Comment below with what you would do.