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Standardized Testing Q&A: What Parents Should Know About Scores, Test-Optional Schools, and More

Hilary Scharton, Vice President of Canvas K-12 Product Strategy, offers insights on standardized tests, test-optional schools, and test scores.

Schools across the country are gearing up for standardized test season—often a source of controversy and frustration for both students and parents. Hilary Scharton is Vice President of Canvas K-12 Product Strategy, an innovative testing software now being adopted in school districts throughout the country. She offers her insights on how standardized testing is being used in admission today, the rise of test-optional schools, and whether students and parents should be worried about their scores. 

Q: How are standardized test scores being used in college admission today?

A: They’re being used less—more often, colleges are giving students a “test optional” admission process where they weight transcripts and applications more heavily or allow other evidence like AP (Advanced Placement) or IB (International Baccalaureate) classes in place of ACT or SAT scores. 

Q: Do standardized tests accurately measure a student's intelligence/college readiness?

A: Scoring well on the SAT has almost no correlation with success in college. The best predictor of college success is actually high school grades. 

Q: Should students (and their parents) worry about standardized test scores?

A: Only under a very narrow set of circumstances. If your child’s achievement is typical—they’re mostly on grade level and developing as expected—don’t worry about test scores. Most of the higher-stakes tests students take at school are primarily intended to give schools data about student performance as a group.

Q: How is technology changing the way student success is measured?

A: The biggest changes have been in the speed and amount of assessment. Computerized delivery and automatic scoring have lowered the bar enough that testing is much more effortless to administrate. It should, however, change the ways students are able to show mastery. Instead of multiple-guess questions, students can use software to create instead of consume, which prepares them for college and a career much better than simple regurgitation of facts.  

Q: How are test-optional admission policies affecting how students are preparing for college?

A: Students can’t necessarily rely on a college weighing test scores heavily, so there should be a greater focus on consistent high performance and planning in high school in several areas:

  • Grades: they need to be kept up for several years.
  • AB and IP classes: take as many as possible.
  • Better extracurriculars: dedication to a few will help a student stand out (it’s about quality, not quantity).

Related: What Do College Admission Counselors Look for in College Applications?

Students also need to personalize their college applications more and write higher-quality essays to make their commitment to a college’s core values more transparent. And remember that a four-year college or university isn’t the right path for every student: be open to learning experiences like community college, technical or vocational programs, apprenticeships, boot camps, and other opportunities.

Learn more about standardized tests in our Test Prep section.

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