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  • Sam Merritt

The Daunting History of Standardized Testing

Standardized testing is nothing new. Its uses have varied for decades the most popular of such variation, however, being college admission. Each year high school students and their guardians spend a fortune on preparation for the SAT and ACT–but for what purpose? In order to fully understand the continued use and reliance on these tests to determine intelligence one must look back 1800 years to China under the Han dynasty. Standardized testing first became popular as a means to determine conformation. Rather than measuring intelligence or legitimate skills, Chinese administration offices used these tests to measure how well an individual had conformed to their system of ideology. While the curriculum at this time was made up of an individual's knowledge of poetry and Confucian ideology, this principle of standardized testing remains true. Fast forward to the American industrial revolution and these tests were quite ubiquitous. Initially, western countries relied more heavily on essays for higher education admission, however, with the large influx of students moving to cities for industrial life, this was no longer efficient. The effect of this has magnified across centuries leading to one of the largest educational mismanagements of all time- prioritizing efficiency over legitimate skill assessment. In 2002 President George Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act passed in congress and mandated a compulsory system for standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT. Today the average student is mandated to take at least one standardized test their junior and senior year of high school. More often than not, students take these tests multiple times to maximize their score. This fateful test has the potential to change an individual's life despite several structural problems preventing students from reaching their maximum potential. Primarily, standardized testing creates a “teaching to the test” learning environment that cuts other curricula for monotonous test preparation. This proves problematic as the generation of perverse incentives to receive a number on a transcript rather than develop applicable skills for future careers is not an effective way to prepare students for life beyond the test. In fact, a National Research Council report in 2011 found “no evidence test-based incentive programs are working” even after decades of use [1]. Furthermore, standardized testing rewards behavior that leads to lowered educational attainment. When access to incentives is achieved through working on test-taking strategies a student is left with less time for instruction in place of more grueling test preparation. As a system, public and private education should prioritize the enrichment of students rather than a number that will not serve them past admission. Finally, standardized testing is structurally too simple to accurately assess defining qualities in students. Gerald W. Bracey, the late education researcher and Ph.D., explains qualities that standardized tests cannot measure include "creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, curiosity, endurance, reliability, enthusiasm, empathy, self-awareness, self-discipline, leadership, civic-mindedness, courage, compassion, resourcefulness, sense of beauty, sense of wonder, honesty, integrity." [2] This is key for a myriad of students as universities still consider standardized testing to be a large portion of admission as opposed to other qualities aforementioned. In the end, standardized testing is simply a mainstream ticket to college admission. Since the early 2000’s it has been prioritized over instruction at significant costs. The national education system has been tasked with promoting student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access, yet has unfortunately failed students. As a result of standardized testing, scores have not increased, students are less engaged, and teachers are incentivized to deny students quality instruction. Education is the undoing to any and all inequality.To prioritize standardized testing is to deny students of the rich equality education holds.


1. Committee on Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Public Education at the National Research Council, Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education,”, 2011 2. Valerie Strauss, “The Myths of Standardized Testing,” Washington Post, Apr. 15, 2011

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