"I Am More Than a Test Score"

Dr. Scott Seaman
Apr 22, 2020
image of a test score


COVID19 has thrown society a massive curveball in more ways than we can count. If you want to see real examples of adaptability, flexibility, and transformation, just look at all the consequences of an international shutdown via Stay Home, Stay Healthy.

Could any of us imagined back in September that we'd close brick and mortar schools for the remainder of the year and attempt distance learning for the P-16 system? No, we could not. As much as we are still coming to terms with all the negative consequences of shutting down our traditional approach to education, we are simultaneously cracking open the door to some positive, unintended consequences that should have been addressed decades ago.

The K-12 system was just starting to scratch the surface in identifying and beginning to dismantle historic inequities for kids and families. Tough conversations and changes in practice were beginning to evolve throughout the state and country. In fact, some people were starting to think that we'd made some significant strides in the world of "equity" in education. And then we shut the schools down.

So, here we are now. Providing "distance learning" for students ranging from kindergarten to college. If we were uncertain about inequality before we closed the school doors, try looking at it now with kids and families accessing education through technology and connectivity. Of course, this is operating with the assumption that all kids have access to technology and connectivity. We are not even talking about health, safety, and support within the home environment. That's a whole separate blog. I'm talking about compounding inequities facing kids who were already in an uphill battle.

We can see the gaps even more clearly now in access, opportunities, and support for kids as we learn to operate in a virtual space. We can't do anything about our current reality, but we can push ourselves to think beyond today's challenges as we look to rebuild an educational system for tomorrow's kids. This is the part where people say, "Uh oh, here he goes again."

A Holistic Approach

Let's take a small example and blow it up a little. Some institutions in the higher education space made a big decision during this pandemic to relax some of their college admission requirements by no longer requiring the SAT for admissions for the current seniors. Some see this as a huge concession and olive branch to aspiring college-bound kids. I see this as a few decades too late.

While I certainly appreciate the efforts made by the higher education sector to move toward a holistic approach to assessing potential college students, why does the SAT still have such a strong foothold in the system? As a long-time and still recovering high school principal, I saw countless students navigate their hopes and dreams on, around, through, or away from the SAT. Should one college admission test have so much power in directing the futures of our kids?

Hitting Close to Home

Image of UW student holding a UW flag in Rome

My daughter was a 4.0 high school student with an impressive resume of accomplishments during her high school career. She went on to the University of Washington where she graduated with a 3.9 and two degrees in three years. While in high school, she tore herself apart studying and preparing for the SAT. As the testing date approached and her anxiety grew exponentially, I had to continually remind her that it's just one test, one indicator, one factor that colleges use for admissions, but certainly not the only indicator. That didn't matter. To her, because of such strong social pressures among her peers, the test was either the beginning of or the end of the world. "I'm forever labeled because of that score," she once said. 

Her scores were not good and were below many of the college and university "cut" score lines for admission. In fact, many doors were closed for her simply because of not meeting the minimum SAT requirements. Those scores took a swipe at her self-confidence, self-worth, and hopes. And unfortunately, she allowed those scores to temporarily define her. Those scores caused anxiety, stress, and depression before, during, and after the test. 

I started this blog by describing systems that have existed for decades and cause harm for kids long before a pandemic. My purpose isn't to pound on the SAT, the K-12 system, or higher education. My point is simple. My daughter came from a privileged home with access to technology, SAT support classes, college visits, and two loving parents who reassured her she was more than a test score. I can't even imagine what this process is like for kids without anything close to the same support.

Beyond the SAT

As we move forward in redefining the P-16 system, can we think big? Can we think differently? Can we think about what is possible, not impossible? Can we redefine time and delivery? What if we moved away from traditional grading to pure standards-based grading K-12? What if all colleges used a holistic approach to admissions with little to no influence from standardized testing? Or even better, what if more K-12 kids were dual-enrolled in college so the "admissions" barrier is removed completely? What if we no longer used standardized tests to define the hopes and dreams of all kids? What if?

I'm not sure how to thank the person at the University of Washington who read my daughter 's admission's essay so many years ago and felt compelled to put her folder in the "accepted" pile. So, I 'll say it here. Thank you for looking at her beyond the score. She's done some incredible things in her young life because you all believed in her and said, "what if?"

Oh, and guess what she’s doing now? Stressing about taking the GRE as she looks at and considers grad programs. She’s going to select which university to attend based on whether the GRE is required or not. Seriously?

  • Assessment
  • SAT
  • Testing
  • College
  • Admissions
  • Standardized Testing
  • P-16
  • Seniors
  • High School

Receive Notification on Replies to this Comment?