The Reflection

Gull Lake High School's Online News Source

Student question standardize tests: Are they fair?

As many students gear up for exams, many of them will also be taking the SAT or ACT in the next couple of weeks, spending a couple of hours filling out bubbles such as those above. Photo By: Brian Hall
As many students gear up for exams, many of them will also be taking the SAT or ACT in the next couple of weeks and will spend a couple of hours filling out bubbles such as those above.
Photo By: Brian Hall

Now that final exams are completed, another looming task lies ahead: standardized testing. Within the last couple of years, standardized testing has been under debate as many question their policies regarding time allotted to students, the material on the exam and how it may give an advantage to students whose families have a higher income than others. However, many still claim that without them, it is impossible for colleges to compare students from different schools and different backgrounds. Many students who say that they work incredibly hard may not be rewarded if they are a poor test taker and that it unfairly  influences their college application as well as  their future. This begs the question: is a four hour long test fair, and is it a good way to compare students from different backgrounds?

“I think standardized testing is fair,” said Cameron Befus, senior at Gull Lake High School. “Everyone has the capability of memorizing something, and it puts no one at a significant disadvantage.”

Befus elaborates, saying that while there may be a slight advantage to those with a family of a high income, ultimately, it is up to the student to decide how important the tests are to them, and how much they are willing to work toward a good score.

“I’m sure people with more money who can buy the books have a better advantage but there are still ways of learning the material,” said Befus. “Just because you have the books doesn’t mean you are going to do well.”

While wealth may play an advantage in situations such as these, the question is if it’s a major difference. Are students being penalized because of their income level or are those who are naturally intelligent and work hard going to succeed regardless?

“When you can afford test prep materials, it does give you an advantage over other students,” said Helen Foldenauer, junior at Gull lake High School.

Foldenauer further said that wealth isn’t the only factor.

“These tests are supposed to regulate how teachers are teaching and if they provide a general base for all students, but they really don’t because of how there is a variation in the school systems,” said Foldenauer. “Generally, the higher rated the school is, and the higher the quality of the education is, and it will lead to a higher standardized test score.”

In support of Foldenauer, a study recently conducted on April 17, 2015, by MIT and Harvard University researchers reported that “higher-income students had a thicker brain cortex in areas associated with visual perception and knowledge accumulation.” In addition, by comparing test scores of students to the families income level, researchers found that there was a direct correlation between the thickness of the brain cortex in the students (both in the temporal and occipital areas) and the family’s income. In addition, students with families of a higher income generally go to schools with more resources and a higher quality of an education which leads to the claim that “nicer” schools lead to a better score.  

However, while there may be a correlation between wealth and test scores, Befus is still resilient.

“Yes, wealth does play an advantage in the variation of test scores, but that doesn’t mean that all wealthy kids will get a high score on these tests,” said Befus. “They have to decide how bad they want it, and how hard they will work. The perseverance a student has is the only real advantage in standardized testing.”

The standardized tests also give give advantages to those who are faster readers and those who know the “tricks of the test.”

This introduces the question if these tests are fair to all students and considers different learning paces and abilities.

“I don’t know if standardized testing is fair, but it is probably one of the better ideas that I’ve heard to try and compare students,” said Jake Schmitt, senior at Gull Lake High School. “I just don’t agree with how there is a set time limit to take the test.”

Many students in the Midwest will take the ACT which will "determine" if they are prepared for college. Photo By: Natalie Herson
Many students in the Midwest will take the ACT which will “determine” if they are prepared for college.
Photo By Natalie Herson

Running out of time is the number one complaint students have for the ACT, according to The Princeton Review. The main reason for this is how the ACT organizes and formats its tests. The test is divided into four sections: the English section which 75 minutes is given to answer 60 questions, the Math section in which 60 minutes is given to answer 60 questions, the Reading section where 35 minutes is given answer 40 questions (as well as read four passages) and the Science section where 35 minutes is given to answer 40 questions.

“The reading section is the worst,” said Schmitt. “It’s not because I don’t know the material; it’s just because I run out of time.”

Schmitt said that the time limit on the test should be removed, adding that it doesn’t encourage understanding of the work, but rather encourages students to finish each section as fast as possible.

“Knowledge is not based on how fast you can answer questions,” said Schmitt. “It is more of how many you get right and understand the problem.”

When asked if wealth plays a role, he replied that “wealth isn’t the issue,” and continued to his assertion that timing is the biggest disadvantage for students.

However, while many students oppose standardized testing, most do not have a better idea on how to compare students academically.

“I believe that standardized testing is fine the way it is,” said Befus. “It gives everyone a fair shot as everything is the same.”

While Schmitt agrees with Befus that the current system is fine, others are skeptical.

“While I think that some standardization is good, it shouldn’t be the difference between getting into college or not,” Foldenauer said. “Colleges should put less of a weight on tests and more on student’s grades, essays and extracurriculars.”

Instead, Foldenauer proposed an idea that 90 percent of the college admission process should be based on the student’s grades, essays, extracurriculars, etc., while 10 percent of the application should be based off of the student’s test scores.

“The application process penalizes students who might do well in college simply because they do not have the same financial or educational means as others,” Foldenauer said. “That is unfair in my eyes.”

While many universities require some form of standardized testing, there are an increasing amount of colleges that now offer test-optional policies which state that unless the student wishes to submit their ACT or SAT scores, it is not necessary for their application. This is especially common among liberal arts colleges as many of them take into account the personality and character of a student and place more importance on these attributes instead of the student’s ability to take a test. These colleges focus more interviews, teacher recommendations and extracurriculars as a better representation of a student’s success in college. However, while there is a movement for test optional admission, the majority of American colleges still require tests. This means that although they may be unfair for some, it is the most effective way for colleges to compare students to each other from different backgrounds. So for students who are taking them in a couple of weeks buckle up, it’s about to be four hours of pure misery.


Author Profile

I am a senior in high school and the Business Manager of the newspaper. I enjoy running, skiing, and hanging out with friends and family. Next year I will be attending Colby College, a small liberal arts school in the heart of Maine with intentions to explore different educational opportunities.

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