Standardized tests are used frequently for all ages and in all types of settings, but the most common form of these tests are in the educational environment, and particularly with regard to college admissions. If you are interested in having your child attend college, you cannot avoid these tests, even if you don’t like them or believe in them. Knowing the score results is only secondary to knowing how they are interpreted, though.
At the most basic level, the purpose for these exams is to level the playing field for candidates for admission. High schools across this country vary their programs and there is no standardized curriculum, therefore colleges need to have something “common” with which to evaluate their students. Standardized tests are the answer to that problem.
There are a variety of standardized tests including the SAT and ACT, the most well-known, and the Stanford Achievement or Iowa Basic Skills tests as well as others. The only widely accepted tests for college admissions are the SAT and ACT. (Please don’t confuse the SAT with the Stanford Achievement Test. Even though the acronym is the same, the SAT, put out by the College Board, is the college level entrance exam. The Stanford is used primarily for younger grades.)
When these standardized exams are scored, what they are giving the parent, or the college admissions office, is a picture of two things. The first is their potential for learning. Students will typically show higher scores in one area over another, for instance math versus language arts, and this gives them an “aptitude” baseline. However, this is not what most college admissions offices focus on. The second part of these scores reflects base knowledge. This is where it gets a bit tricky.
At this point a misconception takes place that not everyone wants to talk about. It is perceived that a higher SAT or ACT standardized test score means a smarter student, and so colleges look for the higher scores. To the registrar at the college office, it is that simple. They have to have a tool for accepting some students but not others, and this is the tool. They are not usually interested in how charming your child is, or how talented in extra-curricular areas; they are only looking to the higher SAT and ACT standardized scores to see if you have successfully “jumped that hoop.”
In reality, the higher scores may indicate a brighter student, or they may just indicate an ability to test well. We all know of those students who are very sharp but just don’t take tests well. The reverse is true, too. Some students can test really well, even guess well, or they know how to let the tests give them the answers, but their test scores may not reflect actual knowledge.
We have to understand the emphasis placed on these exams if we are preparing students for college, but in addition to understanding the way a college will look at these, we must also prepare our students to take these types of tests. Right or wrong, an average student but strong test taker can increase their scores and get noticed by the colleges much faster than a bright student who tests poorly.
Keep these things in mind, but remember one thing above all. A high SAT or ACT score does not predict the future for your child or make them more special than another. It only means that they did well on that particular assessment tool. It may open more doors for them, but it does not have to be a comparison tool for moms around the coffee-house table!