New Hampshire chooses the revised SAT for high school assessment. The Chinese imperial examination system, in place from 605 to 1905, was the first large scale standardized test. Candidates spent three days in a tiny room in an examination compound, and were allowed to bring only a water pitcher, a chamber pot, bedding, food, an inkstone, ink and brushes. Candidates who perished during the ordeal were wrapped in their straw bed mats and tossed over the wall.
While harsh by modern standards, the intent of the Chinese exams was to create a class of nonhereditary elites. However, practically speaking, candidates needed to be wealthy enough to not have to earn their living for an extended period of time as they studied, as well as having extra funds to hire tutors.
The standardized tests (SAT and ACT) required for entry into American colleges and universities have also presented a barrier to advancement for many high school students. There have been some positive changes recently which should open the door for more students to earn higher degrees and ultimately obtain better jobs.
In response to recommendations from school officials and teachers, the state of New Hampshire has replaced the Smarter Balanced high school evaluation examinations with the SAT effective 2016. All juniors in public school will sit for the test. Heather Gage, director of the New Hampshire Division of Educational Improvement, noted that there was “great support at the state level for that move.”
“We’ve heard from several of them that the SAT would have much greater meaning for students in their schools and maybe help students want to go to college.”
One of the problems in the past was that the SAT college entrance exams represented a completely different type of test than the ones students were familiar with. Students whose parents hired tutors, some 58% of those taking the test, did much better than the students whose families either could not afford tutors or had non-college educated parents who, not having gone through the process themselves, did not realize the importance of getting help.
The College Board recognizes that this disparity exists and, like the Chinese, wants to level the playing field so that bright children from all races and socioeconomic brackets have the opportunity to get a college education, which becomes more critical every year as a larger percentage of American jobs move from manufacturing to high tech and the service industry.
To achieve this goal, the College Board has made the SAT available for high school achievement testing. Since this test is the same as the college entrance one, these scores can be reported to colleges. They have completely redesigned this exam to make it in synch with what the students are learning in school. The hope is that the questions will invoke a feeling of familiarity rather than a sense of alienation, as was the case with the previous test format.
Both state and the federal government have joined the crusade. Almost half of the states now offer a free SAT or ACT test to all high school juniors. The U. S. Education Department is weighing in as well by providing training for teachers on the content of the new SAT as well as planning to offer more test preparation resources in the future.
Phil Weinberg, the deputy chancellor for teaching and learning at the Education Department said, “We want all of our students to know that this part of the process of getting into a postsecondary option is something that we’re going to help them do and that it’s going to be a normal part of their lives.”
Assessment testing has come a long way since the days of the Chinese imperial exams. The SAT test is three hours (without the optional essay) instead of three days, water bottles have replaced water pitchers, flushing toilets have superseded chamber pots, and number 2 pencils are used instead of ink and brushes. Calculators, manufactured in, let me think, China, are de rigueur. One thing that remains the same is the goal of creating a class of nonhereditary elites.
Hopefully, high school students in New Hampshire and other states who use the SAT or the ACT as assessment tests will come to view these exams in a positive light and will begin to take them more seriously. Assessment tests are ubiquitous in the work force; many professionals must pass tests before they can legally work in their fields. Therefore, learning how to take standardized tests is inherently beneficial. In addition, a free sitting for a test required for college admission is a wonderful opportunity and can act as a spur for students to become actively engaged in planning their next step in life. This experience may encourage them to reach higher and ultimately help move America closer to the ideal of being a country where anyone with the will to succeed can do so by hard work and initiative.