Are Standardized Tests Truly Standardized?

By Nora Lowe

It has recently come to my attention that standardized tests such as the SAT are constructed in a way that puts many groups at a disadvantage. Initially, most students assume that we need standardized tests; however, after researching the issue, these preconceived notions were shattered. Even if standardized testing makes the responsibilities of colleges and universities easier, the test itself is wrong in a plethora of ways.

Standardized testing puts women at a structural disadvantage. A New York Times article titled “Tutors See Stereotypes and Gender Bias in SAT. Testers See None of the Above”, reports that “members of the test-prep industry who took the examnoticed…questions that some thought could throw off the performance of girls. ..When people are reminded during a test of a negative stereotype…it creates…test anxiety that leads them to underperform.” The analysis found that there was even a question that “asked students to analyze a…polemic arguing that women’s place was in the home.” 

The injustice doesn’t stop there. The scoring system of the test itself is designed in such a way as to put females at a disadvantage. The Journal of Feminist Insight comments that “Females got the lowest scores when answering multiple choice questions….all questions on the Critical Reading section and the majority of questions on the Math section are multiple choice…they knowingly administer the test format that inflicts the maximum damage to girls. The SAT’s guessing penalty deducts one-quarter point for every wrong answer…”. While this may seem like a reasonable way to construct the test, upon further examination it is clear that the “females have a strong tendency to avoid answering a question unless they are certain of the answer and this revulsion towards guessing lowers girls’ scores. This exploits differences in male and female psychology in a way that favors males.” Talia Dinstein, a junior at BHHS and the president of the S.A.G.E club (Students Advocating for Gender Equality), shares that “standardized test scores are supposed to be used to look at structural inequalities and fix them.” This endeavor sounds admirable in theory, however “instead we ignore what these numbers mean and don’t try to help women or anyone harmed by other socioeconomic issues.”

In America, there are large racial and economic disparities. Unfortunately, the result is that minorities generally have less resources and do not achieve as highly on the SAT as others. The Chronicle of Higher Education attributes the gap in scores to the challenges faced by minority students. It is important not to mistake this argument as an insult to minorities, but rather to underline that minority students are victims of situational disadvantage. Members of minority groups often lack resources such as tutors, review books, and typical exam preparation material. Many underprivileged schools don’t have the funding to offer AP classes. These socioeconomic obstacles yield lower SAT and ACT scores. Byram Hills is not exactly well known for its diversity, so this issue is not prevalent here. That is why it is extremely important to spread awareness and educate about this significant issue.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is also an issue that practically every student, especially at a school as competitive as Byram Hills, can understand: stress. Relying on a couple hours of your life to determine the next four years is a ridiculous notion in and of itself. The American Psychological Association surveyed teens to pinpoint why stress is so prevalent in our age group, and “sixty-nine percent cited, getting into a good college or deciding what to do after high school.” 

Additionally, “teaching for the test” stoppers student creativity. Entering the real world with only the ability to memorize and recall trivial facts will be detrimental to our society as a whole. As we face too many grave issues, today we need problem-solvers, thinkers, and creative citizens, not flash-card wielding robots. Sophomore Samuel Hadiono adds that “Not only are standardized tests inaccurate, they take away from students learning useful skills and enjoying the education system as a whole.”