Have you ever gone on vacation or to a family outing and had your photo taken? If you’re lucky, when the shutter blinks you’re smiling, the sun isn’t making you squint, and you take a beautiful photo. If you’re not so lucky, the sun glares in your eyes, you’re scowling, and a bird lands on your headat the moment the shutter blinks. Taking the SAT is like that for high school students. If the student has prepared carefully, practiced the test and is having a good day, a good score is the result. On the other hand, if the student walks into the exam with a nasty headache, stressed out because of a fight at home or with a friend, or without benefit of test preparation or practice programs, the student’s score is likely to be lower.
Standardized testing is an accepted part of the admissions process for most colleges and universities today. Students and their parents assume that only those who are successful at achieving a high score on such tests as the Scholastic Aptitude Test(SAT) can possibly gain admittance to their colleges of choice. Proponents of the SAT (and similar tests) contend that the standardized test represents the only practical way to compare students from many different school systems all across the country. They contend that while, as with any human endeavor, the tests are not perfect, they do provide a reasonably accurate estimate of the likelihood of success in college. Standardized tests are not the sole determiner of admission, proponents point out, but they provide important supporting information in determining admission decisions.
Despite these points, however, the evidence indicates that SAT scores are unnecessary as predictors of future college success. The arguments against relying on the SAT as a critical admissions criterion include that SATs unfairly penalize students who do not have access totest preparation programs. Thus, minority students and those from poorer economic environments are unfairly penalized in these tests.
In addition, the value of the SAT as a predictor for college success is not as clear-cut as some claim. Tiefenthaler (2009) notes that the best predictor of college success is not a great set of SAT scores, but instead a great high school achievement record.
Perhaps more importantly, SAT scores only reflect one aspect of intelligence: logical reasoning. Gardner and Walters (2010) presented a theory of multiple intelligences, only one of which had to do with reasoning and logic. Reasoning represents only a single aspect of intelligence, not the entire framework for it. Gardner and Walters suggest that other types of human achievement are as important as being able to solve logic problems. These other aspects of human achievement include musical ability, athletic or kinesthetic ability, linguistic ability, spatial ability, interpersonal skills, and intrapersonal skills. SAT scores can’t measure a person’s ability to compose a tune or play the guitar, nor can they assess how well someone works with other people, or how self-reflective they may be. Yet these skills provide insight into the complete human being rather than a simplistic numerical assessment.
Success in college isn’t just about being able to take a test. College is the time when most students are transitioning from being children living at home and supported by their parents to being adults who have the wisdom to make their own life decisions. An SAT score does not predict how ready a student is to take that giant leap into maturity; studies indicate that the best indicator for college success isn’t a standardized test store, but instead is the overall record of the student throughout high school. That record , including activities, recommendations, and so on, provides a better, more rounded picture of the student’s multiple intelligences. Participation in band practice, for example, offers a glimpse of the student’s musical intelligence. Athletics can identify students with kinesthetic intelligence. Recommendations and being on the student council can give insight on interpersonal skills. Being active on a debate team or school newspaper tells about linguistic skills. Having that more rounded perspective on applicants can ensure that those who are truly ready to benefit from the college experience are offered admission (Tiefenthaler, 2009; McDermott, 2008).
Standardized test scores are much like the shadows in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” (Plato, 2010). The shadows are only reflections of reality. They are not the true essence, the Forms that are the ultimate truth. Similarly, standardized test scores are equally only reflections and shadows of the truth of the student applicants. The truth about the applicants is in their Forms, their complete set of multiple intelligences. Focusing too much on standardized test scores as part of the admission decision process is like paying attention only to the shadows on the wall of the cave and ignoring the sunlit Forms that are the source of the shadows. Plato would definitely disapprove!
Standardized scores such as the SAT have been claimed to be a useful resource in determining college admissions but evidence does not bear out the theory that they add information to the decision process. They certainly add a note of bias against students who don’t have the resources to properly prepare, or who are unable to perform their best on that specific test day. They do not properly reflect the multiple intelligences human beings have in the way that high school records do. Finally, standardized test scores have the unreality of the shadows in Plato’s Cave; they’re ephemeral snapshots of a multi-dimensional reality, and do not reflect the ultimate Forms. For all these reasons, the use of standardized tests as a major determiner of college admission should be eliminated.
Gardner, H. and Walters, J. “A Rounded Version: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.” In A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers, 8th Edition, Lee A. Jacobus, Ed. Boston, 2010, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s. pp. 503-523. Print.
McDermott, A. B. “Surviving without the SAT.” Chronicle of Higher Education. 55. 7. (2008): A-41. Education Research Complete. EBSCO. Web. 6 June 2011.
Plato. “The Allegory of the Cave.” In A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers, 8th Edition, Lee A. Jacobus, Ed. Boston, 2010, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s. pp. 447-459. Print.
Tiefenthaler, J. “A Student Is More Than Numbers.” U.S. News & World Report. 146.8. (2009): 25.Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 6 June 2011.