By Daniella Rodriguez
As autumn turns to winter and the first marking period comes to a close, Saint Saviour upperclassmen are thinking about life after high school. While seniors finish sending in their standardized test scores to meet Early Action deadlines, juniors are deciding whether to take the SAT, the ACT, or maybe both, or how many SAT II’s they should sign up for. However, there is one major worry on everyone’s mind: “Will my scores be good enough?”
Students may think “I’ve taken the SAT three times, but should I take it one more time to improve my superscore?” or “If I get one extra point on the ACT, will this school accept me?”
Though students are constantly assured by their teachers, families, and friends that their scores do not define them, a lot of stress stems from those three hour tests (three hours and 50 minutes with the essay). Whether the scores are needed for acceptance to a dream school or recognition for scholarships, the anxiety that comes with taking these tests rests in the belief that these scores are a student’s last chance to show his or her academic potential.
According to the College Board, distributor of the SAT, standardized test scores “help colleges compare students from different high schools” and “show (a student’s) strengths and readiness for college work.”
While this may be true, can a standardized test truly measure the academic potential of future college students? Do higher test scores necessarily correlate with higher success in college?
Fear Not, Stressed Students!
A study published in 2014 by William Hiss, former dean of admissions at Bates College, illustrates that standardized tests may not be the most reliable predictors of success in college. Hiss’ study (Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions) found that “there are no significant differences in either cumulative GPA (0.05 difference) or graduation rates (0.6 difference)” between students who did submit their ACT or SAT scores, and those who did not.
The study also found that students who did not submit test scores but had strong high school grades “normally graduate at higher rates than students with weaker (high school GPAs) but much stronger testing.” Hiss’ study, which tracked the grades and graduation rates of 33 public and private colleges over three years, concluded that standardized test scores are an unreliable method of predicting success in college students.
If standardized test scores aren’t the best way for students to show their academic potential, what should they focus on? Instead of test scores, Hiss suggests GPA and extracurriculars are the best indicators of future success among students.
“Four-year, long-term evidence of self-discipline, intellectual curiosity and hard work; that’s what matters the most,” Hiss stated in his study.
This means that a student’s high test score does not promise success in college if his or her high school grades are low. In fact, according to Hiss’ study, students with higher GPAs and lower testing performed better in college than students with opposite statistics.
Hiss then reported, “After that, I would say evidence that someone has interests that they have brought to a higher level, from a soccer goalie to a debater to a servant in a community to a linguist. We need to see evidence that the student can bring something to a high level of skill.”
Hiss is not the only one who questions the value of standardized testing as an indication of academic potential.
Because of studies like Hiss’s, Alexandra J. Wilke, SUNY Potsdam’s director of public relations, reported that Potsdam has become test-optional, dropping the requirement for SAT and ACT scores, and joining the ranks of the more than 900 and growing American colleges that do not require standardized test scores.
Since becoming test-optional, Potsdam hasn’t seen a difference in the performance of students throughout their college years, according to Wilke.
At St. Lawrence University, Executive Director of Admissions Jeremy C. Freeman has found similar results, citing new data that has shown that “academic rigor and high school GPA were twice as likely to predict a student’s performance during their four years (at St. Lawrence).”
Even though colleges place great emphasis on high school grades and extracurricular activities, this criteria can also be flawed: grading scales differ across the country – not to mention grade inflation at some schools – and it is relatively easy and common for one to “fluff” a resumé.
While students should probably listen to the advice of their teachers, families, and friends and opt out of that fourth $60 SAT, at present, having a high standardized test score does improve a student’s application for many colleges.
Standardized tests provide incomplete, but useful comparisons of school performance, but they are just one of many measures that should be used to evaluate student ability, neither to be obsessed over, nor ignored.
Daniella Rodriguez is a senior at St. Saviour H.S., Park Slope.