Friday, September 12, 2014

Taming the Beast

I am the principal Westside High School in Jonesboro, Arkansas. From time to time I like to share excellent work form our students. This essay was written by a gifted student and is worth sharing. My disclaimer is that by posting this essay I neither endorse nor disagree with the views. It is simply a good piece of writing.

Taming the Beast
By Gunnar George

Education has become a rather unruly beast lately. Debates have begun to rise out of nowhere to try to decide what and how to fix the beast. Who should have rights to an education? Who should decide what time students attend school? What should be their core curriculum? As we all know, to have a strong tower- a sturdy structure to which something as toppling as an education may stand- we need a strong base. So the more important question here should really be, “Which should matter more? A standardized test score, or a GPA?”.Of course, the base here is the students. To have students, we must have admittance. To have admittance, we must have the correct statistics to go by. For this reason, it is improbable for standardized testing, nor GPA to accurately score a student on their academic or intelligent peak for any school.  
Standardized testing has become the status quo of the 21st century when it comes to college acceptance. It is almost impossible to determine exactly how many colleges solely depend on test scores alone, because so many of them do so. The entire purpose of a standardized test is to determine a student’s mental ability in school by taking a four-hour test. In a way, four hours of a student’s time could change their life for the better. Or for worse. In 2002, the No Child Left Behind act began to take effect in almost every school in America. The National Bureau of Economic Research called it “the most far-reaching education policy initiative in the United States over the last four decades.”(
Overall, the outlook on this act was promising. It provided children in low-income areas a means for an education. It set specific goals for standardized testing that were simple to follow--but this is where the true problem lies. As we know, the intention of this act was to raise all student’s test scores in America to at least Proficient by 2014. Reports from the NBER show that schools around the country have done so. For 4th and 8th graders, math and science standardized test scores have come up by 22%, while no significant change in english or reading has occurred.( Technically, schools have achieved their goal of “improved test scores,” but they’ve achieved it in a tricky way.
“Binge learning” is a method that most schools concerned with standardized test scores use. It’s a way of learning to prepare for a test--and only a test. Notice that knowledge and intelligence are two separate sides of a coin. “Knowledge” is the facts, information, and skills learned through education. “Intelligence” is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. With binge learning, schools are effectively adding to a student’s knowledge, but not their intelligence--which is actually what the standardized test wanted to measure. Therefore, the use of standardized tests, such as the ACT, as a means for acceptance into college is a fallacy.
Similarly, the use of GPA as a means for acceptance is also a fallacy. Although the true fault lies inside the specific school’s guidelines--not the government’s. Along with GPA, some schools provide a rank. This rank would show their competitive position compared to the rest of their class. If a student was at the top of their class (composed of X amount of students), their transcript would show a “1/X”. Sadly, rank is what most competitive colleges are concerned about. In 2004, more than half of the students at the University of Texas-Austin were admitted due to their high school class rank. (
The problems with GPA may run deeper than the problems with standardized testing. Rank isn’t determined by a single student alone. In turn, a single student’s rank is actually determined by the rank of their other classmates. For instance, if a student went to a high school where their classmates were very academically involved, then a small 0.1 change in their GPA could wreck their class rank. For this reason, up to 50% of schools across the country so far have opted out of offering class rank to students or Universities.( One other point that even most colleges don’t apply is the difference of schools. Assuming that two students across the country apply for the same college, how could you compare the two? In short: you can’t. If one student in Ohio has a class rank of 1/150, while another in California has a class rank of 3/150, would you assume that the student in Ohio was more intelligent than the one in California? Hopefully not- because to correctly identify intelligence, or any other important complex, you first have to identify the variables. Now, there are many variables in work with intelligence, but the main variable is the human variable. The human variable simply means that any possible variation could occur due to human nature. So, in any equation with a human variable involved, we know that the outcome of the equation could entirely fall onto the shoulders of this one variable. This is exactly what happens with intelligence. What really differentiates a B+ from an A-? This is the difference between a 3.9 and a 4.0, yet is there really a difference?
The human variable with GPA is the teacher. A student’s GPA depends mostly on the teacher that they learn from, because they are ultimately the one that can raise or lower their GPA- especially on assignments that have no set values past 4, like a speech in Oral Communications. When colleges look at ranks and GPA, they typically don’t look at where the student may have messed up along the line to get their original 4.0 to a 3.9, because they have so many other applicants that also require attention. They only look at the numbers- which, as I’ve stated, can be drastically manipulated by will. Should college applications really depend on a number between 1-4, which is determined by a completely different person than the applicant?
You can’t provide problems without providing a solution, because it would only cause more problems. If we can’t judge a student's intelligence based on standardized tests or GPA, how can you? Well, this question is actually so simple that some colleges are actually opting out of the GPA and test-based systems of acceptance and switching to a more intellectually-based method: Interviews. The only true way to know how a student will behave in a class environment would be to watch them, study them, and ask them questions- which is exactly what is happening every day during an interview. Standardized tests were supposed to be able to measure a student’s potential to learn, while a GPA was supposed to measure a student’s ability to learn. With an interview, you can learn a student’s interest in learning, which may actually be the most important aspect of them all.
There are two types of intelligence as we know it today: Crystallized intelligence, which is the ability to solve problems dealing with what you’ve learned over your education, such as a quadratic equation. Then there is Fluid intelligence, with is the ability to solve problems that are entirely new to you, such as a jigsaw puzzle. Overall, colleges are more interested in a student’s fluid intelligence level, because those are the types of problems that will occur more often in life. Sadly, standardized testing, or GPA are not made to be able to measure a student’s fluid intelligence, because it’s simply impossible to do so over a written test or long-term assignments. Interviewing a student however, would more effectively measure their ability with fluid intelligence, because they don’t know the exact questions that the Interviewer will be asking- so they aren’t able to study. Studying causes fluid intelligence to switch to crystallized intelligence, which is why it’s most useful to study for an upcoming test. When you add in a human, as we know, the outcome can sometimes depend on a single variable. To defeat this fallacy in an interview, some colleges already have an interviewing board in place that ask questions to a single student at once, then they each give a certain grade as to how they performed.
I mentioned earlier that some schools are opting out of the GPA and test-based applications. Some of them are actually world-renowned institutions, so they know what they’re dealing with. The country of Finland is currently placed at number 1 in education around the world. It’s no surprise then, that they would take education very seriously. A college there, the Tampere University of Technology (TUT), is actually one of the schools that has refused the GPA based system. They run their application process through an interviewing-system with minimal other requirements otherwise, except a score of B1 on the CEFR exam (which ranges from A1-C2, A1 being the highest possible score), which is an english-speaking literacy exam.( Although they’re not in our country, I believe that America could learn something from our allies. In fact, John Hopkins University already has, because they actually accept students with an average of a 3.68 GPA, despite also being a world-renowned college, and only accepting 27% of students that apply. (
As Dr. Benjamin Carson once said, “Education is a fundamental principle of what made America a success. We can’t afford to throw any young people away.”( The way that education is being handled in the 21st century is not fit for the 21st century. New studies that prove the existence of multiple types of intelligence and learning styles require change on education’s part as well, or education would topple like a tower that has no base. In the present, it is almost preposterous to believe that standardized testing or GPA could possibly accurately place a number on a student’s intellectual level, but it isn’t so preposterous to believe that an interview could. Reform is needed to tame the unruly beast that we call education.

Works Cited:

1. “Applying to TUT”. 2014 Tampere University of Technology. Web. April 6, 2014.

2. Benjamin Carson. “Benjamin Carson Quotes”. 2014 BrainyQuote. Web. April 6, 2014.

3. “Class Rank, GPA, and Grading”. 2014 National Association of Secondary School Principals. Web. April 6, 2014.

4. Peterson’s Staff. “College Admission Requirements and Your GPA”. 2014 Peterson’s, a Nelnet Company. Web. April 6, 2014.

5. Dee; Jacob. “The Impact of No Child Left Behind on Student Achievement”. NBER Working Paper No. 15531. Web. April 6, 2014.

6. Hurley, Dan. Smarter. Hudson Street Press, 2014. Print.

7. Popham, James W. “Why Standardized Tests Don’t Measure Educational Equality”. 2014 ASCD. Web. April 6, 2014.