MG district should stop requiring juniors to take ACT


Emma Lehker/Eagle Post Opinions Editor 

Most colleges require applicants to submit standardized test scores along with high school transcripts, class ranks, personal essays, and, as are often encouraged, personal interviews. More and more people have been questioning, however, the value of standardized testing as a sign of college readiness.

Monona Grove, on the other hand, seems to encourage students to continue on the standard path of education, urging – nearly insisting – that all juniors take the ACT. While this certainly has its benefits, it also can lead to close-minded students and further the elementary notion that standardized test scores provide accurate, fair analyses of students’ knowledge and ability levels.

Monona Grove should stop funding the ACT for all juniors because it is costly, leads to a false sense of security and limited options for prospective college students, and supports a majorly flawed procedure to measure students’ levels of intelligence.

The ACT is costly. While it may seem, therefore, that the school’s paying for our juniors to take it is a benefit, it truly is a hefty burden on the school’s budget. The current price of the ACT is $49.50. Multiply that by 235, the size of this year’s junior class, and you get $11,632. Nearly $12,000 from our school’s already tight budget is no light matter.

The ACT is not for everyone. It is a test whose pros and cons people should consider carefully before stressing out weeks before the exam, sitting for five hours in a classroom answering questions that have virtually no relevance to education or society in the real world, finding out that they’ve received an unsatisfactory score, dishing out $500 to take a class to learn how to take a test, and then register to begin the cycle again. Hundreds of dollars, weeks on end, thrown out for a test that measures only how skilled one is at taking this test.

Students are taught that their ACT and SAT scores are some of the most critical aspects of their college applications. They are pressured to do well not only to get into “good” schools, but also to benefit our school districts. In English, we learn an entire new writing format to be used exclusively on the ACT. We spend hours filling out practice grammar tests whose answers even our teachers admit can be entirely subjective. Science classes are spent frantically scanning passages about “Solution 9” in “Experiment 3” and taking a stab at an answer instead of actually doing the experiment and learning something new. The time we spend learning about the techniques test writers use to foil us would be better spent reading another book or learning and discussing topics that will help us be better, more informed people.

And now, thanks to the recent state budget bill, standardized test scores affect teachers’ evaluations, which means that we will be spending still more class time sitting at our desks preparing for assessments like the ACT. What a great way to get kids excited about learning. If teachers prepare students for life, for speaking, analysis, writing, and creative thought, the high test scores will come naturally.

Despite popular belief, though, colleges are looking increasingly less at test scores and more at the applicants themselves: the things they enjoy doing, their extracurricular activities, personal experiences, academic drives, etc. Personal interviews provide colleges with a chance to get to know each applicant without the arbitrary bar set by a test score that truly offers no indication of how people will benefit or contribute to college campuses.

Many colleges today – an increasing number – do not require standardized test scores at all. And these aren’t just the stereotypically outlandishly alternative, ridiculously easy-to-get-into colleges whose campuses are filled with “free spirits” and slackers who have no drive to accomplish anything. Wake Forest, Pitzer, DePaul, Bowdoin, and Mount Holyoke are all test-optional and consistently place high on college rankings.

The recent flurry of cheating on standardized tests is yet another downside of standardized tests. The percentage of cheating students climbed to seven percent in the 2009-2010 school year, according to the New York Times writer Sharon Otterman – a record number that has steadily increased.

Some argue that the ACT is an accurate and unbiased measure of students’ intelligence. This can be  an advantage for people who, because of difficult home lives or simply by choice, do not receive good grades and have another chance to appeal to colleges. The ACT website flaunts that “the test…questions are directly related to what you have learned in your high school courses in English, mathematics, reading, and science….The harder you work in school, the more prepared you will be for the test.” Why is it, then, that students who slack off, lack academic ambition, and clearly don’t endeavor to learn often end up with off-the-chart scores, whereas students who work hard in school, keep up with their homework, and maintain reasonable GPAs often score poorly?

If the ACT really is a measurement of what we have learned in our schooling, why do we spend time in class learning how to write a specific ACT response and learning what a typical ACT question is? If the ACT were what it claims itself to be, no extra learning would be necessary to do well on the ACT. People who have worked hard, completed their homework, and striven to absorb knowledge throughout their school years would do well, end of story. But that’s not how it works. It appears that the people who score well are merely good at scanning and hastily answering as many questions as possible. They are good, quite simply, at taking standardized tests.

Furthermore, eastern schools rely more on the SAT, which uses different methods. That the ACT is required for entrance to UW-system schools only underlines the district’s myopic focus on the state schools, casting aside viable options that may better suit many students. Equipping students with general writing, thinking, and analyzing skills would prepare them for colleges out of the Midwest bubble and address life skills that would benefit students looking to follow a different path.

Monona Grove should stop funding the ACT, a test that in no way promotes critical thinking. It is a major monetary commitment, advocates extra stress for students, and convinces teenagers that their scores are accurate measurements of their abilities and knowledge.

In the meantime, students, take notice of the colleges that realize that we are more than a test score. These colleges look at who we are as people and don’t jump to conclusions about us based on some test score that reflects nothing about us and our intelligence or abilities.


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