The Los Angels Times is reporting that the College Board, those people who give you the PSAT and SAT exams, have come up with a new exam for 8th graders. To be fair, I am not a huge fan of standardized tests to begin with although I understand their use in limited circumstances. But the last thing students need to worry about is yet another standardized test in the lead up to college.
The argument in favor of the test is that it will help identify students who might be high achievers that should take honors course and AP courses in high school. In my opinion, this is a ridiculous argument. Students should be challenged in high school whatever their academic strength. A good student will not be identified by one test given in 8th grade. A good student is one who has a natural ability or who works hard to achieve. Some good students do well on standardized tests and others do not do as well. Are we to follow the results of the 8th grade test to determine that a poor test taker not take advanced courses in high school? Or what about the student who does well at standardized tests but has no motivation to do well in his classes? How will he view his high school classes differently just because he scored well on this test.
I encourage students to have some basic background on the PSAT before taking the exam junior year because there is a potential benefit to doing well on the PSAT; you may become a National Merit Scholar. So taking a practice PSAT as a sophomore makes sense. But I discourage students from focusing too much on standardized tests whether they be the PSAT, the SAT or the ACT. Yes, you need to understand the exam, and yes taking practice tests can be beneficial. Even taking a prep course can be helpful for some students. But too much focus on standardized testing often works to the detriment of the student by leaving less time for class work or extra curricular activities.
A new test in the 8th grade provides only one benefit. And that benefit is more money for the College Board who has been losing market share as a result of the increased usage of the ACT and the increase in the number of test optional colleges. At this point, most students in this country are taking so many standardized tests that they have lost much of the time to learn such subjects as math, English, history, or foreign languages. That is a shame.