Any person who has set foot in an American classroom within the last few decades has been subjected to one of the greatest scourges of the education system: standardized tests. On the surface, standardized tests appear to offer tremendous value to academic institutions by providing a quantitative analysis of a student's threshold for learning for a given subject. With the ever-increasing competition to get into the best schools (re: brand name) in order to get the best jobs, more and more emphasis is being placed on SATs, ACTs, and the like than ever. While some would argue this help will bring education to a higher plane, I think it will have a much more damaging effect. Why is this? Because we are creating a generation of test takers rather than educated individuals. (I will leave the No Child Left Behind Act for another special rant.)
Say you want to get into school X (insert any brand name here). That means you will more than likely take the PSAT, SAT, maybe the ACT, and some AP courses (assuming your high school offers them). Since you are competing against thousands of other kids like yourself (assuming you are at least upper-middle class), you will probably take prep courses for each of those tests to help ensure you get a good score. Will these tests show an over-arching knowledge commiserate with one's education? Maybe, but there is a good chance they will not. Case in point: I have a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, and was one class short of a minor in Mathematics (I was too lazy to take Linear Algebra). Guess which part of the ACT I performed the poorest on (the one time I took the test)? The math portion. Draw your own conclusions from that.
The purpose of institutions of higher education is preciously that: to provide a means through which an individual can attain an education. Not just a means to and end. Not just another bullet point on a resume. And certainly not as a social-class status symbol. Education and knowledge are supposed to help blur the social lines we have created, not reinforce them. Maybe I have an overly optimistic view of the power of education to help facilitate social change; or maybe the education system just has it's head up it's ass.