All of the above writeups, although expressing the appropriate "screw the system
" ideals, fail to mention the major aspect of the standardized test: they are standardized
Let me elaborate on what that means. These tests came about as an attempt to figure out whether a student had learned a certain body of material. Since all elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools are different (and some children are home-schooled), various educators have attempted to create a device to figure out whether you've learned, say, algebra, regardless of where you were supposed to have learned it.
Put yourself in the shoes of a college admissions person. Let's simplify this scenario by saying that you're only concerned with whether the students you admit have learned the following topics:
Easy, right? Make a big exam
that asks questions from a selection of topics. Algebra
. Either you know about it or you don't. Same with the other topics. Standardization
just means that the test has broad applications, and that a student's score will be statistically analyzed to show how well they did with respect to all other students that also took the test. This is intended to eliminate bias
incurred from problems with the test, as well as external factor
s such as lack of time, broken pencil
s, faulty calculator
, etc. The statistical methods involved are quite sound (if you don't think so, get a good book on statistics
). As with all statistics
, however, their meaning is often misinterpreted.
In my home state of Arizona, for instance, there is a major dispute ongoing concerning only granting a high school diploma to a student if he or she passes a test. Because public education in the US is on a state-by-state basis, and they want the diplomas of all Arizona public high schools to mean the same thing, they make the test applicable to all schools.
The results from the first round of AIMS (the name of the test) were abysmal. Around 25% of students from most schools tested passed the math section! But rather than question, gee, why aren't these students being taught how to multiply fractions, parents kicked up a huge fuss about how the test was unfair, because surely their little angel would never fail a test. Other children -- not their children -- are the ones that don't know how to multiply fractions. Their kid is just as smart as all the other kids.
The point here is that enth is right. Your SAT score only measures how good you are at taking the SAT. However, the math section of the SAT is intended to measure how comprehensive your knowledge of basic mathematics is. "Standardized" tests are no more evil than any other exam you might have in a class, the only difference is that they are used to generate statistics, and thus are not tailored to your particular educational background.
Don't get me wrong. I have strong objections to the "verbal" section of the SAT and similar tests. You can't test someone's communication skills based on that kind of rubbish. The AP English examinations are more on the right track, but these will cost you around US$70 a pop, reflecting the labor-intensive grading process and the market for reliable analysis of prospective college students. But I fail to see the problem with using standardized tests as a criterion for determining mathematical competence, because, contrary to the beliefs of certain liberally-inclined pseudoeducators, either you get the right answer or you don't. If you get 9 of the 10 equation-solving problems wrong, we can conclude that you don't really know what you're doing. This is sound logic.
Schools "teaching the test"? Great! That means that they might learn how to multiply fractions. Does this confine your learning boundaries? Yes, it does. It means you might have to actually learn some math instead of "discovering" some properties of cardboard cones, which is what starts happening when the "Everyone's A Winner" mentality starts encroaching on education. Heaven forbid someone should tell you that if x + 10 = 10, then x = 0!
And actually, I think public education is a bad idea any way you set it up. But in the meantime, keeping tabs on the effectiveness (assuming there is any) of certain curricula is the only way to provide any sort of quality assurance.