When SAT Tests More Than Knowledge, Students Lose Out

Sep 8, 2018

Standardized testing: two words that will make any student scared.

It usually requires just three things: a sharpened number two pencil, a sheet of paper with bubbles for the answers, and a native English speaker. 

The most well known standardized test is the SAT, taken during one’s junior year of high school. This test is often the first that reflects each student’s individual knowledge, and the scores actually matter.

Compared to some of the other required standardized tests high schoolers take, the NWEAs or the NECAPs, which takes the data from an entire school and judges the institution based on it, there is a pressure to perform well on the SATs if a student wants to go to college.

But several discussions with my psychology teacher, Troy Crabtree, led me to understand that there is an unfair advantage when it comes to standardized testing; if English is one’s strongest language, they will perform better.

As a teenager who is only fluent in English, I can say with surety that the reading and comprehension section on the SATs is difficult. Although I like to think I excel in English as a course, this test was arduous. It set up sentences in ways under-experienced readers would struggle with, along with grammatical errors hard to discriminate. It is important to remember that the SAT is not offered in different languages. Unless the reader has a full understanding of English grammar, the language can be difficult to interpret. 

The math section on this standardized test may also pose difficulties, seeing that the questions are in English as well, despite the idea that “math is the universal language.”

If someone who was preeminent in mathematics immigrated from Africa recently, the odds of them doing well on the math section would be seriously hindered because of their language skills. Without an accurate understanding of what the question is asking you to perform, there is no way that one could adequately answer the question. As a native English speaker, I already found the math section on the SAT to be difficult and riddled with tricks. It is hard to imagine trying to solve the numerical pieces without the ability to comprehend the language attached.  

From a teenager’s perspective, it somewhat feels like the SATs, along with many other standardized tests, are curated to make students fail. Now, I doubt that is what the creator of the standardized test envisioned, but nonetheless, it is happening to students who are not fortunate, or privileged, enough to have English as their first language. If a student who only speaks English feels this way, it is hard to imagine how insurmountable the test must feel for a recent immigrant with English as a second or third language. 

As a high school senior, I’ll need to retake the SATs. Though I disagree with standardized tests in general, I still will need the scores to go to college. In an ideal world, there would be no need for standardized tests, as students would be judged on their character and not their ability to sit in a room for two hours while forced to stare at a glaringly white piece of paper and bubble in their answers.

Lilah Morrow-Spitzer is a student at Portland High School. She  produced this piece during a Raise Your Voice Workshop at Baxter Academy for Technology and Science sponsored by Maine Public and the University of Maine Writing Project.