Staff Ed: American Standardized Testing Is Flawed


Taking an ACT is one of the more stressful things in a student’s career. It’s built up to be an incredibly important part of getting into a good college, and preparatory schools like BSM place heavy emphasis on taking it, as do many students’ parents. This is why to some, it may be a welcome relief that many colleges and universities have gone test-optional for a several-year period, for the class of 2021, or even permanently. 

In light of all this, and as schools across the US return to an in-person learning model, and some colleges are beginning to require taking the ACT again, it is time to assess the value of the ACT and whether or not it’s an accurate reflection of a student’s knowledge. 

Though 75% of schools in the United States are currently test optional, students who come from privileged families or are interested in applying to elite schools still view the ACT as necessary. The entire process of the ACT itself is an exercise in privilege, with the cost of standardized testing being excessive for low-income households. Just taking the ACT costs $50.50, or $67.00 for the test with the writing supplement. Additionally, for many students, the process of attaining a good score on the ACT involves expensive tutoring and taking the test multiple times. The price of getting a high score can skyrocket from the hundreds of dollars for taking multiple tests into the thousands for one-on-one tutoring. When students who have taken the test multiple times and reach the point of fighting for one-to-two point increases, the ACT becomes less a matter of knowledge assessment and more a matter of pattern recognition.

Another problematic fact of standardized testing in the United States is the stark divide in results among different races and ethnicities. This is potentially symptomatic of the deeper systemic injustices in education and income inequality in the United States, though no matter the cause, it is a concerning factor that holds back minorities in the college admissions process. 

As it now stands, standardized testing is one of the primary methods of assessing a student’s knowledge, especially in AP courses. This leads to schools preparing students to take a test more than anything else, rather than having them study for the sake of knowledge or to prepare students for a career. Even to take AP tests, students need to pay $94 per test. This price can become prohibitively high for lower-income families if a student wants to take multiple AP tests per year. 

Thousands of schools have at least temporarily gotten rid of their ACT requirements, and according to FairTest Executive Director Bob Schaeffer, over half of all schools in the country will remain test-optional or test-blind until 2023. The Knight Errant editors welcome this move, as it makes a biased and questionably useful test at least optional for college entry, and takes a required college admissions process out of the hands of for-profit companies.