Mo Juenger is a first-year Philosophy, Politics and the Public and Spanish double major. She is a guest writer for the Newswire from Kings Mills, Ohio.
Every year, more than one million high school students across the country pretend to turn off their cell phones and sit silently in a classroom for four hours. These four hours are supposedly crucial: They decide if you’re going to earn a state scholarship, if your mom is going to make you go to ACT prep classes for another six weeks or where you’re going to get into college.
They misrepresent and polarize us. You’re either the one who slept through it and got a one out of 36, or you’ve been reading “The Elements of Style” since you were in utero. They place us socially with friend groups who are academically singular so that we don’t broaden our horizons to different styles of learning.
There are a million facets of life that these four hours decide for us. So, maybe it’s time we stop thinking critically for standardized testing and start thinking critically about it.
I went to high school in Ohio and we had a program that let every student take the ACT once for free. In theory, it sounds like a great way to combat the achievement gap. If every student, regardless of financial ability, can take the ACT, then that should level the playing field. But college-readiness testing isn’t about your intelligence. It’s about your specific preparation — the weeks or months or years that you and your parents have spent preparing for it. The cost of ACT and SAT prep classes creates a wall between students of varying economic status. This ensures that standardized testing isn’t based on true ability but on an economic advantage, or disadvantage, that you cannot control.
College readiness testing does not measure your readiness for the vast majority of majors. Music majors, for instance, don’t benefit (within their field) from preparing for a standardized test, but their scores can inhibit them from using many scholarship resources. “Cut-off” scholarship practices judge students based on their scores, and do not consider students below a certain score eligible to receive financial aid. Any non-STEM and non-English major is not being tested on skills that are relevant to their specific studies. This represents the devaluation of most college majors, all of which are valid and necessary for a functional society.
The mindset behind standardized testing is one of toxic impermanence. It trains us to think about life as a never-ending series of goals. In high school, your goal is to get to college. In college, it’s to get a job. In the workforce, it’s to retire. Thinking like this leads students down paths without passion. These goals sit along a singular line which should, in theory, lead them to an eventual life of fulfillment. Deviation from these goals would prolong the path to fulfillment and therefore happiness with their achievements.
In reality, deviation is where the majority of us find out what truly fulfills us. We study abroad and learn that we love to cook Spanish foods or we skip class to go to a protest. These are not goals; they are random occurrences, and they can shape our being just as much as anything else. Happiness exists within the standard academic structure, but the narrow mindset that this structure falsely provides leads us to believe that it doesn’t exist on the outside.
The bottom line is that college readiness tests are prohibitive. They put us in boxes financially, spiritually and academically. College isn’t a singular experience; even those who study the same things will take incredibly different paths. It’s a fallacious exercise to enforce objective testing on a subjective educational system and life. Schools like Xavier are finally beginning to realize the damage these tests do, and it’s a step in the right direction to no longer require them for admission. We are finally starting to understand that we don’t have to limit ourselves just to succeed.