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Standardized Testing: The Future of College Ranking?

by Nicole Leonard | Boston University

F Posted in: College P Posted on: April 17, 2012
Screen shot 2012-04-13 at 12.01.16 AM Image courtesy of Flickr, albertogp123

Every year, most colleges compile data on the applicants who choose to attend that university or college. Four-year private and public institutions, as well as two-year programs, are judged based on certain criteria and then compared to other post-secondary education schools all across the United States.

In the past couple of years, some government and state education officials have suggested implementing assessments such as standardized testing. The college students’ scores would then be used to help rank the colleges against each other by measuring how well students are improving in problem solving skills.

Executive director of the New Leadership Alliance for Student Leadership and Accountability David C. Paris said in a New York Times article that people are starting to become more receptive to the idea of testing students to see if college has improved their skills.

“We used to hear a lot more of, ‘The value of college can’t be measured’ and now we hear more of, ‘Let’s talk about how we can measure,’” he said.

Currently, information on freshman rates, academic competitiveness, scholarly resources, faculty evaluations and post-graduate employment rates are often made available to the public and used in rankings.

Forbes Magazine said in an online article that its writers use data compiled by the Center of College Affordability and Productivity to rank the best 650 undergraduate institutions in the country. Forbes uses the current system of looking at the areas mentioned above, including student debt rates, but does not depend on any universal college standardized test scores other than schools who look at SAT and ACT scores for admissions.

The idea behind standardized testing is to provide parents and taxpayers with the opportunity to see if the cost of the school’s education is worth the rank the school receives. While standardized testing is required in grade schools due to the No Child Left Behind Act, college students feel taking a standardized test does not measure how well schools do.

Boston University sophomore Meredith Perri said that, although she can see why testing might be appealing in determining if the cost of a school matches student success, it cannot measure the level of knowledge a student comes away with after graduating.

“It seems to me that it would be more beneficial judging whether or not the cost of college is effective more so than necessarily what [students] are coming away with,” she said, “because it is a challenge to say, how do you compare the knowledge someone is coming away with if they’re studying human physiology compared to someone who is studying in the College of Fine Arts.”

An aspect of college standardized testing that is debated among professionals is how the tests would be created to be universal in such a diverse learning atmosphere as post-secondary education.

At many large colleges and universities, schools within the colleges are concentrated in specific areas of study and often do not teach the same curricula. Other colleges in the country are specifically designed for students pursuing only a handful of areas of study.

Colleges can also range from four-year private universities or colleges to four-year public institutions, and from two-year community colleges to for-profit schools.

Perri, who is originally from New York, said she thinks it would be very difficult to compare a four-year private university with a two-year community college using the same standardized test.

“It is not something that can be applied across a mass amount of majors and universities,” Perri said. “How are you going to compare SUNY Orange, which is my local community college, to Boston University? You can’t give the same standardized test.”

Hillary Wasserman, a sophomore at American University, said she remembers how stressful standardized testing was in high school and how much stress she thinks it would put upon colleges students. She said that, because students are majoring in specific things, they might not do well on certain aspects of these kinds of tests.

“They are an arbitrary measure of a student’s skills, especially when each student is majoring in a [specific] subject and won’t be proficient in every subject on a standardized test,” she said.

For four-year public institutions, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, along with the Association of Public and Land-grant Opportunities, developed in 2007 a Voluntary System for Accountability program to present “clear, accessible and comparable information” on participating universities through a common web report, or College Portrait.

Fellow BU student Samantha Wood said the purpose of college is not memorizing facts and taking tests but more about obtaining a job and professional career within the area a student chooses to study.

“College is where you learn life skills, networking, how to get a job, and things like that that cannot be measured in a standardized test,” she said. “There’s so much more that goes into college than ‘2 + 2’ and ‘how fast can I solve this problem?’ It’s more about the life skills.”

Nicole Leonard Nicole Leonard Nicole is a sophomore at Boston University, where she is studying journalism and psychology.

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