Deliberate Debates

Testing: Yes or No?


Testing: Yes or No?


Sadie’s “NO” Argument: 

No, I am not only writing this because I performed terribly on the ACT, but it does play a part in my opinion… 

In high school, I dedicated myself to education and success. That was until I took the ACT. Regardless of my four years of hard work, a test that lasts four hours could determine my fate. My anxiety and nonexistent test taking abilities didn’t make it any better. I mean, how could they be? From a young age, I was told the ACT decides your future. Did you truly expect me to wake up at 8 a.m. on a Saturday, stress-free and smiling?

In my opinion, standardized testing, whether it be the ACT or SAT, no matter the acronym, it always seems to stand for one thing: FAILURE. These tests aren’t designed to help anyone accomplish anything significant, other than to ruin students’ confidence in their capabilities. 

To me, the ACT is a life-ruining, confidence-diminishing, frustrating, thoughtless, overrated, every-other-negative-adjective-ever, standardized monster. Many people think this test can determine your whole future, and for too long, those people weren’t completely wrong. 

The ACT/SAT was the deciding factor of your college fate. Your score is what got you noticed. For the price of about $60 for the SAT, and shocking $40 if you missed the ACT’s sign-up deadline (yes, there’s a late fee), you too can ensure your indubitable sorrow when receiving your scores. For Parker students, 40-60 dollars may be easy to pull out of your wallets, but I urge you to take a look into the real world. 

Race, class, and ethnicity biases give white, affluent, and wealthy test-takers an unfair edge. ACT scores are directly related to family income: the richer students’ parents are, the higher the average scores. That is not a coincidence. The ACT was developed as a test to see real talent in high school students, but just from simple evidence, the test has long-standing problems of bias, inaccuracy, coachability, and misuse. 

The largest problem, in my eyes, is the test’s “pay to win” ability. ACT itself sells coaching products. ACT insists that “for students who have not studied the content or grasped it… short term review is not likely to be of much benefit.” While ACT acknowledges that familiarity and test-taking skills can affect a score, it also maintains that the descriptions and sample items included in the registration packet address them. If that claim is true, why is ACT selling coaching guides and software? Aside from the books bought online, there is tutoring. Parker students surely know of this. “I can’t come to practice on Tuesdays, I have ACT tutoring.” Many are paying hundreds of dollars per week, learning how to score highly on the test. But I thought the test was developed to see real talent in high school students, not to show how much tutoring you can afford? 

Funny enough, basically all the people around me have the same tutor! So funny to discuss meetings with him. Isn’t it kind of strange though? Doesn’t that kind of seem like a factory? Each student goes down the conveyor belt, building skills on how to ace the test.  

Oh, and don’t gloss over extra time. You could get up to three times the normal test time with extended time! But, to get extra time, you must have a diagnosis – more money! For a teenager’s ADHD diagnosis, the minimal average price is $295-$375, and a comprehensive evaluation could run you $3,700-$4,500. So to get extra time, regardless of whether you need it or not, you have to have money. 

The weak predictive power of the ACT, its susceptibility to coaching, and the negative impact test score use has on educational equity all lead to the same conclusion – test scores should be optional in college admissions forever. According to Inside Higher Ed, studies have found that there is “virtually no difference” in the academic performance (measured in grades or graduation rates) of those who do and don’t submit test scores. Colleges and universities that already admit substantial numbers of freshman applicants without regard to test scores, like those a part of the UC system, have shown that class rank, high school grades, and rigor of classes taken are better tools for predicting college success than any standardized test. 


Jack’s “YES” argument: 


Having taken the ACT myself, I know the stress that comes with taking it. Long hours of test prep, early morning wake-up calls and frustration after not understanding a few questions on a section of the test were some of the low points of my Junior year of high school. Now that I’m done with the ACT, I am grateful that the people around me pushed me so hard to take the test.

Many argue that the ACT is a stress-causing test. I agree, but I would make the counterargument that this is good stress. Think of it as practicing for a sport. How can one expect to do well in a stressful gametime situation if they don’t practice and prepare for that moment? The same applies for the ACT. The stress of preparing for important tests is carried throughout all aspects of life. These include major college tests that count for a large, if not full, percentage of one’s grade. 

In addition to helping prepare students for the stresses of testing, test prep also makes students more knowledgeable. The ACT and SAT test a student’s writing, math, science and English abilities. Success in these areas directly correlates with success in college level classes. In fact, MIT has found that, “performance on the SAT/ACT, particularly the math section, substantially improves the predictive validity of our decisions with respect to subsequent student success.” This has led MIT to reinstate their testing requirements following a COVID-related pause. 

MIT also found that not having SAT/ACT scores to consider actually raises socioeconomic barriers for lower income students.  While the results of standardized tests do reflect socioeconomic differences, they are not nearly as disadvantageous to lower income students as the other factors that colleges consider, including not being offered advanced coursework, not being able to afford enrichment programs, and not being able to receive lengthy recommendations from their teachers. Colleges that don’t require the ACT/SAT put many of these students at a disadvantage. 

The argument that the ACT/SAT are cost-prohibitive for low income students is simply false. In Illinois and most other states, both taking the test and the test prep at public schools is completely free. In addition, those eligible for the National School Lunch Program, whether they attend public or private or schools, can take up to four additional tests and access all of the ACT and SAT official prep materials for free. As for the cost of diagnostics for accommodations, most public school systems also offer free diagnostic testing for test accommodations to all students regardless of their socioeconomic status. 

Grading scales around the country vary in so many ways, from a 4.0 scale all the way to a 100 scale. It is difficult for colleges to have a clear, equalized way to view a student’s academic abilities. Many schools, especially larger schools, may have multiple teachers that teach the same academic subject and the harshness or easiness of grading across teachers can be completely different. For a school like Parker where GPAs aren’t weighted, a 4.0 GPA in lower classes compared to 3.85 in more advanced courses could look very different in the college process, especially for colleges that aren’t familiar with the school. The ACT and SAT help to fix these problems, as the tests are a way to understand an aspect of a student’s academic capabilities through a test taken by students worldwide.