Standardized Tests: Testing the Patience of the Poor
by Laura Barber
Statistically, college graduates with a bachelor’s degree earn around 66% more money than those who only have a high school diploma. In this day and age, college is almost essential for a person to remain competitive in the employment fields, with about 20.5 million students attending college in 2016. However, there are certain prerequisites required to be able to attend almost all colleges. Most require high standardized test scores, making the pivotal four years after high school a little less attainable.
The standardized tests are not only designed to test academic ability but also an individual’s attention to detail, purposely wording the questions ambiguously or formatting the answers to deliberately trick the test taker. Because the test requires a specific skill set to successfully understand, it is almost impossible to do well without familiarizing yourself with the question structures and passage formats. However, even that is most of the time not sufficient enough. Eric Ma, an accoladed senior at MHS who is well accustomed to test-taking methods for standardized tests, elaborates on this idea saying, “anyone who can’t handle the financial burden of studying for the SAT through a course is at a complete disadvantage. The argument of ‘oh just self-study…’ is also baseless, considering it’s such a unique test in terms of methodology that it’s nearly impossible to do well on the first try”. Mastering the structure of the test is a pivotal step in being successful on these types of tests and not everyone has access to the test formatting as there are financial factors that affect the test results of each test taker.
Since standardized testing requires preparation to a certain extent, many people will invest in tutors or prep classes to sufficiently ready themselves for the examination. However, those people who cannot afford to spend upwards of $100 per session are at a great disadvantage to the people who can pay for the extra help. Although the SAT and ACT changed in the last few years to test more on the knowledge accumulated in school in order to help those students who cannot afford extra tutoring, the timing and speed required to do well on the standardized tests cannot be achieved without practice, regardless of a person’s academic knowledge in school. Therefore, the high prices for tutoring put the lower class families at a disadvantage, creating a clear disparity between the scores of the upper and lower classes. According to Journalist’s Resource and their article, “The Role of Socioeconomic Status in SAT Score, Grades and College-admissions Decisions,” “students from higher income backgrounds generally achieve higher scores, and ‘21.2% of variance in SAT scores is shared with SES, as measured here as a composite of mother’s education, father’s education, and parental income’”.
Morristown High School senior Nicole Williams explains, “standardized tests are not an accurate representation of intellect or the student’s ability. If you come from an affluent family, you can easily afford a tutor for testing and in turn, you are more likely to get a higher score. “
In conjunction, by establishing the difficulty of the test‘s format and time constraints, it is almost inevitable for students to have to take the test more than once. In turn, they have to pay the College Board or ACT company every time they take the test, which can be costly for many families, particularly those with financial struggles. Students also incur a $12 fee for each individual score sent to each college they apply to, fees that can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars. Isabelle Augensen is another senior at MHS who also acknowledges the socio-economic discrepancies saying, “a privileged student [regardless of race] will always have more opportunities to score highly than an underprivileged student [regardless of race]; they will have access to tutors, study materials, and can also afford to test multiple times.” The SAT charges $45 for the test itself and another $12 for the results and solutions, while the ACT also charges $12 for a score report, but costs $39.50 for the individual test. The fact that both of these companies sell the test solutions separate from the test itself shows that these businesses disregard the economic strains they employ on the families who are financially unstable. As aforementioned, it is very difficult to score well on the first attempt, so the company charges extra knowing the students will most likely have to purchase the test solutions in order to prepare for the next time they take the test. Katie McCreedy, an MHS senior and Editor of the Broadcaster, adds that “By the end of my senior year, I’ll take nearly twenty standardized tests. And I’m certainly not alone. That’s hundreds of dollars in fees, score reports, and tutoring. Not to mention endless hours studying outside of normal school work.” Since the ACT is a nonprofit organization, where is the millions of dollars they obtain from their standardized test going towards?
Furthermore, the heavy weight that the standardized tests have on a student’s chances of college acceptance is not proportionate to the attention given to an individual’s grades in school. It is unfair for a person’s academic future to largely rely on a singular test score. AP English and Creative Writing teacher, Jennifer Furphey comments, “we are in a sad situation, 25 years ago you took the test but there was more emphasis on your academic achievements over the four years. Now they market the test to seem like the 3.5 hour period has a bigger impact than your grades during school.“ The fact that 4 years worth of hard work and studying is comparable to one standardized test score is absurd.
Colleen Peterson, a junior and staff writer for the Broadcaster, takes this idea further mentioning the fact that the standardized testing actually creates a heavier burden for the students saying “I think it’s kind of ridiculous that they make it such a big deal so people feel pressured to take prep classes which cost a lot of money. [Students] have to devote even more of their time to work outside of their regular studies.” The greed affiliated with these tests is generating an ever growing divide between the social classes.
However, some standardized tests are not as flawed as others. Although the AP tests bear some financial strain on the students seeing as the tests cost $92 each, these tests provide a much more accurate representation of the person’s skill set
and subject caliber. Although the cost is daunting, as some people have criticized the fact that one needs to pay to show their knowledge, the cost of the test is still less than the payment of each of the credits one would have earned if they took the course in college. As Furphey stated, “students are invited to take the test and build the skills to take the AP test.”
In retrospect, the standardized tests are supposed to examine a person’s readiness for college, and ultimately they do just that. However, it all comes down to the education systems typically in economically poor areas that fail to prepare their students for the standardized tests, ultimately exposing the division between the poor and the rich and further preventing the financially unstable from successfully competing with the rest of society.