Earlier this month, students for the first time took a new, and allegedly improved, SAT. The test’s developer included more-contemporary vocabulary and removed penalties for guessing the wrong answer. The changes came with a predictable outcry—complaints, for instance, that too many word problems in the math sections disadvantage some students. There was also a familiar refrain from parents: Why do we have this exam at all? Why do colleges put so much stock in the results? And why-oh-why do our kids have to take so many tests?
It might seem unfair that admissions officers place almost as much weight on a one-morning test as they do on grades from four years of high school, as a 2011 survey from the National Association for College Admissions Counseling showed. But there’s a simple reason for this emphasis on testing: Policy makers and educators have effectively eliminated all the other ways of quantifying student performance