The Upside of State Standardized Tests: A Student Speaks

A perceptive, reflective, high school junior in Denver wrote an opinion piece that appeared in the Sunday edition of the Denver Post yesterday.

In it, Jennifer Luo remarks that her years of taking standardized tests, filling out bubble sheets, thinking about pacing, reviewing and revising answers, and managing the stress of taking the state standardized tests (known as the Colorado State Assessment Program, or CSAP) have prepared her well for the realities of college admission.

She says that years of practice on the state tests have helped her to perform well on the SAT and ACT tests.

Some students see no motivation to take the test. I disagree. I think I learned something from taking the CSAPs. It teaches test-taking strategies. And it’s about learning to calm nerves and getting used to standardized tests, because there are scarier ones ahead. And for college-bound students, those ones matter.

And as I prepare for these important exams, I’ve realized that I’m actually lucky to have taken the CSAP six times. That’s six practice tests, all without costing a dime. I’ve refined my testing skills – relaxing, pacing, double-checking, remembering to bring the lucky pencil. With practice comes ease, and because of CSAPs, I’ve been preparing since I was 8. Whether my teachers or I knew it at the time, the test-taking strategies we practiced are now useful for vital high school tests.

Taking the CSAPs was like drinking eight glasses of water a day: awfully boring and mundane, but advantageous in the end.

And while I complain about standardized tests and the time I spend preparing for the SAT, I also realize that there’s no better way to compare students across the country. And since I can’t run away from tests and I’ll see more in college, I might as well get all the practice I can get.

And now, with the PSAT looming this month, I’m grateful for every bit of practice I had. Including the questionable CSAPs.

Now that is a reasonable view of the state tests.

I do find it ironic that some of the most vocal opponents of standardized tests in K-12 schools are sometimes the very same folks who want their kids to go to elite or name-brand colleges. They also shell out thousands for their kids to cram for the SAT and ACT, because they know that these “scary” exams really do matter in college admissions.

True, the SAT and ACT are only one measure of a student’s worth. They are not necessarily good predictors of future performance. But they are a perfectly acceptable way to compare “apples to apples” across the country, across school systems, and across racial and ethnic lines. What with grade inflation and the knowledge that some schools do a better job of preparing our kids for college-level work than others, we must have some way of comparing kids’ knowledge and aptitude fairly and consistently. This is what the SAT and ACT do. They “standardize” American education, because we still do not have a standard educational system across the country.

And young Jennifer Luo is perceptive enough to recognize that standardization is not necessarily a bad thing. She, for one, appreciates that the CSAP exams have prepared her for the realities of the college admission process.

Now that’s a mature perspective.

Mark Montgomery
Montgomery Educational Consulting

Published by Mark Montgomery

Mark is a leading educational consultant. His experience as a professor, college administrator, and youth mentor help him guide students from around the country and around the world.

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  1. Actually, even though I really wanted to, I didn’t find anything particularly mature or indicative of perspective in this piece.

    Sure, it made the educational news rounds because it’s one of the few things that can be construed as defending standardized tests. But, if this is the best that the test defenders can do — tests are good because they prepare me for taking other tests — then I think that leaves a lot to be desired.

  2. Hello, Sarah. Thanks for visiting my blog, and for taking the time to comment.

    While this young person’s perspective on taking standardized tests may lack the larger perspective, I do think that her own willingness to look at her situation objectively is pretty mature.

    I know that some people simply believe that standardized tests are wrong, and that all assessments of performance should be holistic. I agree, to a point.

    But standardized tests to provide some useful information that allows us to compare results between classrooms, between schools, and maybe someday, between states.

    They should not, however, be used to value the intrinsic value of a person, any more than an IQ test or the balance in one’s bank account.

    Nevertheless, it is my opinion that standardized tests are here to stay, not only for young kids but also for adults (the CPA exam, the Bar exmam, Medical Boards, etc.). They can be useful, if the data is used as one piece of evaluative data.

    Thanks again for visiting, and I’m thankful for the conversation.


  3. Hello,

    Because standardize tests only a persons ability to take the test, it is deficient in other more important respects. Such as, the students ability to think critically in a work environment, to work with other people and come up with new and innovative ideas, and to act mature and responsible. Students shouldn’t have to practice for a standardize test from the age of eight. I know so many people who are amazingly bright, and don’t do well on tests. It can only be a partial gauge when there are multiple choice questions. This is why PhD candidates are not given a test, but are asked questions verbally, in order to achieve their degree.

  4. I personally do not agree. It can kill creativity and make them mindless, boring robots that contribute to the machine in adult society. Under pressure, how do we know that they will do well? Its easier said than done, and to study and answer questions. But then in the real world, can they perform well? I also find this article biased, as you say her opinion is clearly the ‘mature’ one. But thats just a bit of my constructive criticism.

  5. Hello, Student. Thanks for your constructive criticism. As you point out, the “real world” is different from the world of the classroom. But in academia, we do have to have some measure of performance, and tests are one way that we do that. Tests are not the full measure of a person’s worth or humanity. At times, however, they can be pretty good measures of certain kinds of learning and skill development. I don’t love every test, to be sure. But I don’t intrinsically hate them, either.
    Thanks again for the comment.

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