Standardized Tests: Are They More Harmful Than Helpful?

Standardized testing feels like the great big boss battle of high school. SATs, ACTs and everything in between are meant to determine how smart someone is and how well he or she is going to do in life, but if we measure the actual helpfulness of standardized tests, they fall embarrassingly short. Even though they might be helpful for a few select things, standardized tests are not only classist but also generally ineffective at what they do.

You might be inclined to believe that class and wealth don’t play a large role in testing, but they certainly do. I often hear people say that “if you want to have money, all you have to do is work hard!” Standardized testing is the perfect example of why that argument is flawed. Rich schools with rich students get the whole cake with the cherry on top when it comes to these tests, performing on average higher than lower income schools. Intelligence isn’t determined by your family’s wealth, so if this isn’t an intelligence issue, what is it?

The Chelsea School District has the money to pay for good teachers, good materials and high-quality just about everything. In fact, according to MLive, Chelsea is the 13th wealthiest district in the state, and by no coincidence, CSD is also the 16th highest performing district in the state. In a community made up of mostly middle- to upper-middle class families, students can afford tutors, have access to better materials and more information and are even able to retake the SAT if necessary. These tests are only partially measuring how well a student is able to retain information, and the rest is reliant on whether or not a student has the luck of being able to afford additional help.

And even if we disregard the wealth gap and how it affects students’ school performance, standardized tests are an inaccurate measure of intelligence because they measure purely academic skills. According to developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, there are nine types of intelligence: naturalist, musical, logical-mathematical, existential, interpersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, linguistic, intra-personal, and spatial intelligence. SATs and other standardized tests only test you on your logical-mathematical skills and linguistic abilities. They only test on facts, and there is no way to measure someone’s real intelligence solely memorization of specific kinds of knowledge. People have different strengths and weaknesses, and someone’s logical-mathematical intelligence on any one given day is certainly not going to be the one sole deciding factor of their lifetime success. The test doesn’t measure anything that might make them uniquely strong or intelligent.

I understand that standardized tests are a big part of the high school experience and that Chelsea, on average, has great success with them. Why not just be happy with what we have? The answer is because we’re a privileged community, and we have to recognize it. People in other places aren’t as fortunate as we are, and even if they were, standardized testing is an inaccurate measure of intelligence. A one-size-fits-all approach to measuring intelligence in a student is useless and unfair, favoring certain strengths in students over others, and the wealth gap just increases the inaccuracy.