Standardized testing reform needed

As college application deadlines draw near (or in some cases, escape us), high school seniors and juniors across the country have become all too familiar with the arduous process of standardized testing. It’s become ingrained in us–from registration forms right down to the test day guidelines that the College Board decided would be appropriate for every proctor to recite before each test. Many students, myself included, would be delighted if they never had to hear the phrases "the following test will consist of…" and "pencils down," ever again. To put the proverbial icing on the rather lackluster cake that is standardized testing, the entire ordeal can cost hundreds of dollars when everything is said and done. So why do aspiring college bound students put themselves through such an unpleasant process again and again? It’s either because the Bush era presidency has brought about a generation of masochists or because many colleges require high scores on multiple standardized tests for admission. Both options seem rather feasible, but I took a wild guess and decided it was probably the latter. In fact, the relationship that has developed between national colleges and universities and the standardized testing companies bears an uncanny resemblance to the military-industrial complex. As colleges require more standardized tests for admission, more and more money is poured into the companies that write and administer these tests which begs the questions: why do colleges need scores from up to three or four tests, including subject tests, to determine whether or not a student should be admitted? After all, most of them emphasize the fact that test scores are only a small factor among many in determining a student’s admission. If that is really the case, requiring multiple tests seems excessive. If, under the current system, one test does not sufficiently illustrate students’ potential for collegiate success, it would seem that fault lies in test design. So why are students being punished by having to take multiple tests? Why aren’t better, more comprehensive exams being developed so that only one test could be required for entry? That way, students would only have to bear the cost and stress of one college-entry exam. We’ll let the College Board answer that one. The score stakes have become higher too. As the college application process has expanded, it’s hard for students to know which aspects of their application are most important (i.e. test scores, resume, GPA, recommendations, etc.). Whether or not colleges put a heavy emphasis on testing, a lot of time and effort is vested into the taking of standardized tests simply because it is one of the few aspects of students’ applications that they can control. They might not be able to change what activities they’ve been involved in for the past four years or what grades they got as underclassmen, but they sure can get better test scores. Once upon a time, standardized tests were taken by those who needed to take them once and without preparation. The score you earned was the one you stuck with (fair enough). Currently, students are encouraged to not only study but to take the test multiple times to improve their scores. Studying often means purchasing preparation books and materials that are sold by the testing companies themselves (you know, the ones who encouraged the studying in the first place). These companies also openly recommend taking the tests multiple times to further enhance scores. As ACT Inc. says, "You should definitely consider retesting if you had any problems during testing, such as misunderstanding the directions, running out of time, or not feeling well… You may also want to consider retesting if you don’t believe that your scores accurately represent your abilities." As more and more kids begin to purchase study materials and take tests repeatedly, others who would not normally be inclined to such strategies or who cannot readily afford them are forced to adopt this score-obsessed mentality (and dish out the cash) just to compete with those who have decided to do whatever it takes (i.e. utilize the expensive approaches recommended by companies) to get their ideal score. What does this all mean? It means that both the expectations for what scores should be and the costs involved in the testing process have become unrealistically high. What’s even more baffling is the fact that both major producers of college admissions exams, the College Board and ACT Inc., are not-for-profit organizations which makes one wonder why the process is so expensive in the first place. Perhaps there are certain inadequacies in the companies’ respective bureaucracies that prevent prices from being lowered. It’s hard to say, but one thing is for sure: not only is the current process of pre-college standardized testing annoying, stressful, and expensive, it’s unrefined and inefficient, and reform is needed.