In a move that strains credulity, California’s state universities are suspending the SAT and ACT testing requirements for its state schools for the next four years. It’s a move that’s not entirely unexpected given its two-year research initiative researching predictive outcomes of standardized testing versus GPA, but one that makes little sense. As a teacher of 15 years it makes little sense that GPA, which is wildly inconsistent from school to school should be used to make critical decisions on student outcomes based on sociological studies rife with correlative error of assumption. It is virtually impossible to isolate “life success” factors in a scientific study such as employment, criminal record and level of income, given the complication of so many other elements of success in these metrics. None of them are compelling in causality (i.e. linking GPA directly to life success) versus simple correlation. Smart and driven kids typically get good grades and “succeed,” in very, very general terms. It is weak research based on the bad science of politics.
The truth is that a 4.0 (or a 4.5!) means something far different from one school to the next. In my fifteen years as a teacher, I had great number of students transfer in who had effortlessly aced every single English course before mine struggle to achieve a C+ or demonstrate any work ethic to speak of. There is a classic narrative about the student who arrives at college X (a top 50 school) to find that her roommate has never written an essay before, not one. In other words, the STANDARDS dramatically vary in American schools. I think even the fanatics of this radical new policy that is destined to flop will admit this much. But we’re going to use the data from loose, largely unquantifiable life success factors to determine the readiness of those students who will attend our colleges and universities and be the future thinkers and policy-makers of our country? This seems foolish, and bound to weaken the high STANDARDS established for this country.
The California school system seems to vaguely understand the potential for this to fall on its face, as a press release from the UC president’s office claims that “this isn’t necessarily an end to standardized testing for admission to UC schools yet, as the release also says UC will endeavor to develop its own test by January 2021 for implementation in 2025.” For some reason, they would like to reinvent the wheel, and replace the product of fifty some-odd years of research of the measures of intelligence and college readiness. The replacement will certainly have just as may fleas as the old dog, of course, and probably more critics than before. The UC system also anticipates this flaw in approach, suggesting “if that test doesn’t meet ‘specified criteria’…the UC system [will] fully eliminate standardized testing requirements for applicants.” But if you eliminate any measure of standardized intelligence and use wildly inconsistent GPAs, recommendations that all summarize personality with the same cliches, and a college essay that has come from God knows where, you may as well be flipping a coin.
If we want to create a more equitable playing field, why on earth aren’t we more focused on improving substandard school systems with far less funding than their richer counterparts? Why not focus on more training programs for teachers in depressed areas, improving their infrastructure? Why aren’t we expending more of this energy on reforming the criminal justice system that deprives students of stable family structures and communities? Why not provide the public with more funding for test tutoring? All of these initiatives would make far more sense than working to eliminate standards of excellence for young students, which these tests, despite their idiosyncrasies and shortcomings, represent. Politics, backed by weak sociological science, seems to have bludgeoned common sense yet again.