How Well Do Standardized Tests Measure a Students Ability?


Since the mid-1800s, standardized testing has served as a crucial benchmark for measuring a student’s knowledge and capabilities. Along with a transcript and resume, colleges often look towards standardized testing scores to compare students to one another and help aid in the acceptance process. 

These tests were originally created in order to offer a unified measure of students’ knowledge. But are they truly the best identifying factor to measure a student’s ability as a whole?

For starters, standardized tests offer no meaningful measure of progress. Rather than capturing one specific student’s progress from one year to the next, standardized tests observe the change in who the students are, by comparing one class year to the next. For example: How did the Junior class scores this year compare to the Junior class scores from last year? This is an unfair comparison because between years learning standards change. For example, the widespread global pandemic shut down schools for a year and a half.

Another issue is that standardized testing is easily influenced by outside factors, meaning they take into account more of how well students perform at test-taking in itself, rather than the knowledge they truly possess.

A common example of this is testing anxiety, a psychological condition in which people experience extreme distress and anxiety in testing situations. Today it affects nearly 16-20% of students across the nation.

Hunger, tiredness, and prior teacher or parent comments about the difficulty of the test are among many other outside factors that contribute to test-taking, and shouldn’t be used as the baseline that goes into measuring one’s level of achievement and academic ability.

These standardized tests also unfairly benefit a specific demographic. Those who have access to better study materials, money to pay for tutors, and the opportunity to take the test several times are given an unfair advantage over those who may not have the same resources.

And because standardized tests are comparative, students are more prone to doubt their abilities if they do poorly on a test judging them on how they learn and comprehend. As complex and unique individuals, no two of us learn quite the same. Thus, we need different tactics on how to retain certain things.