STAFF EDITORIAL: College Board’s model is the wrong answer

Standardized testing is a ritual for high-school students in America—for high school students everywhere, really. Whether we’re preparing for the French Baccalauréat, the Chinese Gaokao, or the German Abitur, tests like these have become inevitable, quasi-sacred milestones or rites of passage.
According to CSU Pomona, today’s standardized tests are descended from the ancient Chinese Imperial Examination, which was put in place so that “appointees to civil service positions were not to be chosen through special or inherited privilege, but through an individual’s own abilities.” Later Western exams were explicitly based on that example.
Just as it’s become accepted that primary and secondary education are state responsibilities, and a public good that ought to be preserved, it would seem that standardized testing—which strives to give students’ achievement a common measure—ought to be a public-minded endeavor. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The College Board, the firm that makes the SAT, PSAT, and AP exams, is not a branch of the department of education; it’s a non-profit corporation. When its annual profits are 8.6% of revenue ($53 million!), though, that label begins to seem more like a strategy for avoiding its tax burdens than an accurate description of its purposes (Americans for Educational Testing Reform).
It’s undeniable that standardized tests are a public service. They give colleges a benchmark with which to evaluate every student in America. We would be uncomfortable giving control of our nation’s public schools to private companies; we should be just as uncomfortable about giving away control of standardized tests.
The College Board spent $766,354 on political lobbying in 2009; indeed it’s a textbook example of crony capitalism, since it depends on a government monopoly to continue doling out its six-figure executive salaries—the No Child Left Behind Act’s focus on standardized test scores can only have increased demand for the tests the Board is all too willing to sell.
Speaking of selling: why is it that when you or I register for the SAT, after filling out the kind of survey we associate with phishing scams and e-mail spam, we’re treated to a nice list of books we can buy to pass?
The bottom line is this: standardized tests are meant to give every student an even footing. It’s a noble cause, and the SAT has furthered it along. But the same “non-profit” that administers it should not be allowed to profit from it. That kind of vulgar racketeering corrupts the high aims the test ought to stand for.