The Problem With Testing

While at the orthodontist with my son, I was browsing the December 2022 Northern Virginia Magazine. An article about college admissions caught my eye. I appreciated the theme of the article: consider many options for college and don’t be discouraged if you get rejected.

This quote was one I really agreed with:

The pressure-packed college admissions process can take away from the joys of high school if students and their parents or guardians get wrapped up in being accepted at a handful of extremely selective schools. Across the board, counselors remind their students, “You are not your test scores.”

 Barbara Bean-Mellinger, December 2022 Northern Virginia Magazine

This is a sentiment I absolutely agree with: scores do not define you. There is no way a score can summarize all that is good and wonderful about you as an individual.

The next paragraph, though, undid all that good work by focusing on the importance of GPA.

Tests may come in and out of favor, but a student’s grades in high school courses — and the strength of the courses taken — will always matter. While tests measure a student’s ability on one Saturday morning, high school transcripts reveal how well they applied themselves every day for four years.

Barbara Bean-Mellinger, December 2022 Northern Virginia Magazine

No! No! No! A transcript is not the ultimate trophy. That is not what a student should focus on. I wish instead the article had ended by saying, “A student should focus on achieving mastery in a topic they love.” Or, “Parents and teens should focus on developing skills that can be enjoyed regardless of college admission.”

I know that for me personally, my GPA wasn’t perfect because of my freshman year. There’s no way to overcome that! Telling an 18-year-old that they can or cannot get admitted because of what their 14-year-old self did or didn’t do can feel very defeating.

GPA can be just as arbitrary as test scores. GPA can also measure luck and timing more than actual effort. Which teacher is a lenient grader? Which material is already familiar and easy to sail through? A transcript is not the ultimate summary.

We should, as a society, encourage teens to build a project-based portfolio that includes evidence of inter-disciplinary learning. We need to stop relying on test scores and GPA. These measuring sticks serve only to shortcut the learning process.

1 thought on “The Problem With Testing”

  1. Barbara Bean-Mellinger

    I agree with you that a student’s GPA does not define them. However, the article is about getting into college, and whether we like it or not, GPA is important to college admissions committees. Unlike test scores that measure one point in time (the student on the day of the test) GPA covers 4 years of school, so it is a decent indicator of where they are at this point in their lives. If students have a passion for one subject or activity, that should be prominent in their essay. — Barbara Bean-Mellinger

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