Methods of measuring student ability need improvement

March 26, 2018 — by Michael Zhang

By narrowing the scope of examinations and adjusting standards locally, accuracy of assessing student ability could be improved.


For most high school students, the SAT or ACT is a must-take college entrance exam. But for many years, students have doubted that these two assessments and other standardized tests accurately reflect their academic ability. Even grades sometimes don’t correctly reflect students’ knowledge and abilities.

Recently, however, steps have been taken to increase accuracy in measuring academic ability, even for those chronically cursed with doing poorly on Scantron-centered tests. For example, the introduction of Smarter Balanced assessments in recent years, which incorporate new technology like audio and video sources, aims to help audio and visual learners show their skills. Additionally, some courses, such as the Media Arts Program, also help emphasize a more hands-on, task-oriented learning environment.

Even so, the assessment system continues to be greatly flawed.

One possible improvement could be the introduction of standardized tests on a regional, rather than national, level. Current tests attempt to measure students by a national standard and compare scores, but fail to take into account cultural or demographic influences that differ from region to region.

Suppose a community is composed primarily of first-generation immigrants to the U.S. Obviously, it wouldn’t be fair to test these students on the same English standards as the remainder of the nation. But, on the other hand, they might excel in other areas, like foreign languages. So, by locally adjusting standards and by narrowing the scope of examinations, accuracy of assessing student ability could be improved.

Another method to improve evaluation could be the increase of long-term, creative projects rather a simple test at the conclusion of a unit of study. By using a project rather than just a test, students must demonstrate a wider variety of skills, including dedication, critical thinking, time management, and problem-solving ability, rather than just memorizing information.

Of course, this isn’t to say that tests should never be given. When teachers are in a hurry to finish and submit grades at the end of a semester or are overloaded with 40 students in a class, a multiple-choice exam may prove to be advantageous compared to large projects simply due to ease of grading. But whenever possible, shallow memorization and regurgitation should avoided, even more so than it is now.

Although some steps in the right direction have already been taken, there is still plenty of room for improvement in the realm of student assessment. If the measurement of our academic ability throughout high school influences university decisions so much, we should try to do it better.

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