Putting standardized tests to the test of accurately judging academic ability

If knowledge is power, than higher education is a necessary step towards becoming powerful and notable. One road block to obtaining this goal is standardized testing, which continues even into the graduate school level.

Even adults from earlier generations can vividly remember standardized testing from as far back as elementary school, and present generations likely feel even more pressure. A big increase in standardized testing was seen after President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. Despite such an increase, some reject the premise that standardized tests make for smarter, better prepared students.

As students advance through higher education, standardized testing is not over. Law and medical schools have their own specialized standardized tests (the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)). The Graduate Records Examination (GRE) and Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) compete for the attention of most other graduate schools, each one hoping to be the go-to for standardized testing. Currently, the GRE  is the most widely known and commonly used standardized test required to get into most graduate schools.

Michelle Wieser, head of the newly established St. Kate’s MBA program, does not require applicants to take either the GRE or the GMAT as a crucial part of admission.

“I think anybody who’s ever taken the GRE has complained,” Wieser said. “I took it at 40, and I don’t think it was a clear indicator of my academic abilities. The test is so different from how we assess our students’ abilities in the classroom, where we use more projects, papers, and case studies. We use exams, but they’re not in any way like a standardized test.”

Most scholars remember the stress of taking standardized tests, such as the American Scholars Test (ACT) and Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), in order to get into college. According to Wieser, stress over these tests is all for naught. ACT and SAT scores become important in an “apples to apples comparison” when candidates are tied, but scores are not the most important factor.

However, graduate schools sometimes have their hands tied.

“Oftentimes, for the programs to be accredited, they have to have standards to get enrolled and be accepted. If you’re not accredited, you can’t get approved for financial aid for students,” Correia said.

Not all graduate programs require the GRE; some use the less well-known, but widely accepted, Miller Analogies Test (MAT). With an increase in specialized programs, such as medical or law school programs, a passing grade on a standardized test is usually a must-have for admission.

As for the undergraduate level, Stephen Correia, Chair of Education for the St. Kate’s Master’s of Education program, believes that the ACT should only be used as a measure of basic information.

“The ACT is not a very strong predictor of college success,” Correia said. “But with graduate school programs, they want to make sure certain academic skills are already in place. In graduate school, what you learned in undergrad is the vocabulary of what’s in use. So it’s starting knowledge when you arrive at graduate school.”

Correia lists some of the most competitive graduate programs, such as politics, economics, and anything related to the medical field. These programs usually have a strict policy on the GRE requirement.

Luckily, for undergraduate programs such as the one at St. Kate’s, the requirement of submitting a standardized test score is less stringent.

“We do look at multiple factors,” said Kerri Carlson, Director of Recruitment in the St. Kate’s Admissions Office. “In some cases it doesn’t mean they’d be denied, just that they might need additional support services to help them be successful. We also look at the subscores [of the ACT] to figure out where they need help. Their coursework may override their ACT.”

While knowledge may be power, standardized tests are not the only way to measure a student’s academic ability. St. Kate’s takes the perspective of intelligence as a broad spectrum that these sort of tests can only scratch the surface of.

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