This recent NBC article details the regurgitated arguments that slam the SAT for its socioeconomic biases and inequality, and may serve as a jumping off point for why all these points, meritorious as they all are, are short-sighted and ultimately will demolish standards in education.

First, we must distinguish the difference between reforming the flaws of a standardized test and eliminating all standardized testing. These two points are so often emotionally conflated that it is difficult for a meaningful dialogue. The complaint that the College Board charges students to send their scores to more than four schools is an argument against the financial profiteering of The College Board, not an argument against having a standard measure of academic success. Similarly, that instruction is more readily available to students of means identifies underlying systematic inequalities, not flaws in the concept of standardized testing. For the purposes of identifying whether standards should be eliminating altogether, let’s set aside issues of reform, for it greatly dictates the fixes to a system that admittedly has them. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, as the saying goes.

For the purposes of considering whether to eliminate standardized testing, let’s isolate the issue of whether it’s effective to have standardized testing…

Much has been made of the studies linking life successes to standardized test scores, particularly those that suggest that higher scores do not necessarily correlate to better results in college grades and other metrics of success (by the way, that’s not all of the studies, inconveniently). Setting aside the discrepancies, I think science, and specifically sociology, with all due respect, fall woefully short in providing object realities. Measuring “life success” with numbers goes past this author’s incredulity. I’m glad those with better grades in high school correlatively get better grades in college and have greater employment numbers, but there are just too many structural flaws in those studies to be able to use them definitively to alter societal structure. It’s essentially impossible to eliminate correlation in studying human structure, and impossible to quantify “success.” And that’s assuming, of course, that what we want from our college students is success at all, and not the pursuit of knowledge….

I’ve taught at seven different private and public institutions and been a learner at another nine others, and you can’t tell me that student with a GPA of 4.0 is of equal quality, in terms of potential for higher level inquiry (the presumed purpose of higher education, though perhaps that purpose has been lost in all the complaining), that a GPA of 4.0 at another institution. That’s just common sense.

I’ve had students come into my classes with 4.5 GPAs from other schools, enrolled in all “AP Classes” who had never received a B in their lives who could barely write a sentence in their senior year of high school. You’re telling me that this student deserves a seat at the table of high level inquiry over a student who has been grinding it out with kids with nearly double his or her IQ and earned a B+ average carved out of their own blood sweat and tears? I’m just not buying that as reasonable.

The common sense truth is that grades at different institutions have different values that are ridiculously inflated and basically impossible to measure in any meaningful way. If you start from this fundamental truth, it’s not difficult to conclude that some standardized measure is required to measure the readiness for higher level thought, unless your goal is make the entire population mediocre and bring down the level of intelligence of our society.

Again, if you’d like to talk about inequality in educational access, in quality of instruction, in socioeconomic inequality, in racial inequality, I agree with you 100%. That all needs reform and is intolerable. But if you’re talking about eliminating standards for excellence, I’m out. I think that’s just plum Kurt Vonnegut crazy. But it seems it’s a lesson that America is intent on learning the hard way.