A collection of essays by Bill (website@ccjj.info) accompanied by feedback from his friends.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Standardized Tests

College Tuition Costs and Standardized Tests

One of the biggest problems American society faces is that college tuition has become so high that many people just can't afford college, or if they go, they graduate massively in debt.

There are standardized tests, the SAT and ACT, that are widely used for entrance to college. Colleges put a lot of weight on these, because grades are non-standard and not very meaningful. A good grade could just mean that one had an easy teacher or dumb classmates. The presence of standardized testing for college admissions has been very beneficial, it allows outstanding students at unexceptional schools to get recognition.

We have a standardized tests for graduate school admissions, such as the GRE. However, the service that administers the GRE refuses to make their test scores available to private companies hiring college graduates. Given that grades are an unreliable indicator, this means that all the companies have to go by when considering applicants is the reputation of the school and the student's GPA.

What determines the reputation of a college? The quality of the undergraduate program has little to do with it. The quantity of research being done has a lot more, and it is common for professors at elite schools to neglect their teaching so they can focus on their research. The university administration doesn't get very upset about it, because it is the research and not the quality of instruction that determines the reputation of the school.

There is also a big problem of grade inflation. Many teachers give nearly all of their students good grades, because that discourages students from complaining about poor instruction quality. Rarely do administrators do anything about it.

There is only so much fame to go around. The average hiring manager can only have heard of a certain number of nationally famous schools. The vast majority of people are going to have to go to relatively unknown schools. And it would be nice if someone could go to a cheaper, less famous school, and still be recognized as an outstanding performer. Widely available, standardized tests taken at the end of one's college education would be a great way to achieve this.

Another benefit of widely available, standardized tests taken at the end of one's college education is that one could compare the test scores of students graduating from schools with the SAT scores they got while applying, and see which schools had the most beneficial impact on test scores.

One criticism of testing is that schools will "teach to the test". This certainly happens, but the solution to it is simple: construct an intelligently designed test such that the best strategy for achieving a high score is a mastery of the subject matter. I have heard, mostly from people who are against testing, that the "No Child Left Behind" tests are particularly bad. The solution is to improve the tests, not do away with them.

A big problem liberals have with standardized tests is that different social groups perform differently on them.
If these tests were mismeasuring talent due to unfair cultural bias, I would expect there to be groups who are high performing in society who perform poorly on the tests and groups that are low performing in society who are performing well on the tests. This is not the case -- generally, performance of groups on standardized test correlates very highly with the per capita intellectual performance of individuals in those groups in society, even before those tests existed. This is evidence that the tests are not unfairly biased. Given that society stands to benefit so much from the institution of more widespread standardized testing, I think the burden of proof should be on those who maintain that the tests are unfairly biased.

No comments:

Post a Comment