Standardized Racism

When you think about standardized testing, what is your initial thought or reaction? For me, my instant thought is “ugh, standardized testing”.

I have very strong and heated thoughts about standardized testing. I don’t think they should be a requirement for education and I think they are racist, ableist, and classist.

Let me explain.

(If you don’t want to read the entire post you can also listen to all of the information below through the Black and Yellow podcast episode called Standardized Racism. Available on Apple podcast and Spotify).

My Personal Experience with Standardized Testing

I went through public high school. I was a student who loved school. I was an avid and beautiful note taker, I loved socializing with friends and classmates, and I loved extracurricular activities. At the time I didn’t mind standardized testing because I knew how to play the game of school and I was good at it. The older I was the more I started to rebel having to study for a specific topic more than 3 months (mostly because I did all the work and then never saw the benefit of studying for a topic that long to have it not appear on the test).

I took the PSAT and AP classes. I don’t remember anything beyond that in high school. I did really well in my AP classes but did not do well on the AP exams (even after doing extra work in my AP English class to make sure I would be able to do well on the AP English exam).

My, somewhat, failure at AP classes led me to try Running Start my senior year. Running Start is a funded program where high school students can take college classes while in high school, for both high school and college credit, at a reduced price (tuition is covered and students only pay for fees and textbooks). I loved Running Start. After taking AP English, ENGL& 101 at the college was a breeze and such an easy transition to college. For me, I wondered why I even took AP classes and didn’t go straight to the Running Start program. I took 2 classes for 3 months and received 10 college credits, did the same for the next 3 months, and the next 3 months. I earned 30 college credits my senior year of high school without having to study an entire year’s worth of content, whereas my junior year (if I had passed my 3 AP exams) I would’ve only received 15 credits and studied an entire year’s worth of content to receive those credits.

It just didn’t make sense to put in all the extra effort for such a small payout (in my opinion). I also did better at showing my learning through homework assignments rather than being tested on my learning.

When I went to the university tests disappeared for me. It’s somewhat difficult to test you on social work knowledge when social work is more about practice, experience, feeling, and other. Instead of testing we did community engagement projects, volunteered in the community, filmed ourselves interviewing actors who were acting as potential or real life clients and patients we may interact with, and more.

In graduate school I still did not do test taking. My Cultural Studies masters degree program frowned on test taking because there are other ways to show learning (also test taking is only designed for one demographic and is meant to oppress and fail all others). There was no admissions GRE requirement and there were no tests throughout the entire program and all my classes.

Professional Experience with Standardized Testing

I am a college academic adviser and have been an adviser for almost 6 years now. I have witnessed first hand standardized tests being wrong about students. In the past 5 – 6 years I’ve met students with low grades in high school and low standardized test scores. I’ve seen them succeed and exceed expectations in the classroom and transfer to a university with ease.

I’ll give you an example.

I’ve met multiple students who did poorly in high school and on standardized tests who had experiences with being bullied, students spreading rumors, school drama, family drama, etc. Some students also disclosed they didn’t want to learn or found school to be boring or unimportant.

They spend a few years out of school and come back because they now want to pursue an education. After meeting me they start taking classes and, surprise! They do well in their classes (I’m talking As and Bs). I meet them after they finish classes and they are confident and surprised at their success. They tell me they had no idea school could be like this and that learning can be fun and engaging.

Most of these students will also apply to transfer to a university to complete a higher degree and are successfully admitted to said university. It is still possible. Even with bad standardized test scores you can still get into college, it may not be Harvard or Yale, but you can work your way up to going there. See my action steps at the bottom for how this works.

Let’s Start from the Beginning: History of Standardized Testing

According to the National Education Association’s article titled “The Racist Beginnings of Standardized Testing”, “the first SAT was administered in 1926 to more than 8,000 students, 40 percent of them female.” The article goes on to talk about standardized testing during World War I and how the test scores were used to segregate soldiers by race and test scores. Reports say the tests “were scientific yet they remained deeply biased, according to researchers and media report”.

Standardized tests, like the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and ACT (American College Testing), show your readiness for college. Instagram account @socialstudies4socialjustice mentioned in a post that standardized tests show students’ ability to study, shows how well students understand standard English, shows how well students can “play the game” of school, and shows if students have resources at their disposal.

The National Education Association article continues to say, “Unlike the college boards, the SAT is designed primarily to assess aptitude for learning rather than mastery of subjects already learned,” according to Erik Jacobsen, a New Jersey writer and math-physics teacher based at Newark Academy in Livingston, N.J. “For some college officials, an aptitude test, which is presumed to measure intelligence, is appealing since at this time (1926) intelligence and ethnic origin are thought to be connected, and therefore the results of such a test could be used to limit the admissions of particularly undesirable ethnicities.”

The article also mentions Black and African Americans, particularly males, “are disproportionately placed or misplaced in special education, frequently based on test results. In effect, the use of high-stakes testing perpetuates racial inequality through the emotional and psychological power of the tests over the test takers, according to FairTest“. This is something I see at the college level a lot. There was a time where the college I worked for had a severely low, almost non-existent statistic of African American males graduating with degrees and/or certificates. This has since increased but is still severely low and, I can imagine, is a low statistic at other colleges too.

The National Education Association article is definitely worth the read. It also mentions English language learners and students with disabilities and how standardized testing impacts them.

Standardized Testing Now

A March 2019 report from IBISWorld valued the tutoring and test preparation industry at $1.1 billion, with exam prep services making up 25% of the industry. This was mentioned in the podcast episode and something I feel needs to also be addressed here. That’s wild! Imagine making that much money and profiting off of students needing study books, study guides, tutors, and more for a test that only happens once or once a year.

According to a 2014 PBS article “Do ACT and SAT scores really matter? New study says they shouldn’t” by Sarah Sheffer, factors like high school GPA are still the main determinant of how well a student does at a university — not SAT scores. In fact, those scores don’t say much at all with regard to how well a student will do in school. If this was said back in 2014 why are we still using standardized test scores to determine college readiness?

Recently, the Biden Administration made a statement requiring students to take the standardized test this year, even though we’re in a pandemic. Rep Jamaal Bowman called this out in an article with the New York post saying, “Over the past year, our students have faced unfathomable amounts of trauma and anxiety due to the pandemic. They’ve lost teachers, family members, and their entire way of life. The Biden Administration’s refusal to grant waivers for standardized testing is WRONG. If you have never been an educator, you should not be leading on matters of education in our country. All of the data that they claim they need standardized tests to analyze can be better understood by speaking with the educators in our classrooms.” (https://nypost.com/2021/03/03/rep-jamaal-bowman-calls-standardized-testing-a-pillar-of-systemic-racism/).

Action Steps

So what can you do about standardized testing?

  • Did you know you can opt out of the standardized testing requirement? Have your parent or legal guardian write a letter to your school principal explaining they do not want you to have to take the standardized tests.
  • What are your options if you have poor standardized test scores? There are a couple options.
    • Go to community college after high school (either for a few terms or till you complete a degree). Standardized tests show readiness to be successful in college. If you’ve already been to college and your grades are proof of how successful you are in college classes then it’s a no brainer that you’re also ready for the university (and that your standardized test scores did not accurately reflect how successful you’d be in college). Of course, maturity and other independent related skills are separate. I’m strictly speaking on academic performance and readiness.
    • If it’s your first time taking the SAT or ACT you can take it again. Make sure to create a study plan for yourself and practice good study habits that work best for you. Some people will set a timer to do work for 25 minutes then take a 5 minute break. Some will make a checklist of tasks they want to accomplish that day. Some will be on Twitch or on Zoom with friends/classmates to have someone (virtually) doing work with them to keep them on task and focused. There’s an abundance of options. I follow studygram accounts on Instagram, they give lots of advice and inspiration for study habits and productivity.

You can catch more information about this topic on the Black and Yellow podcast episode titled Standardized Racism. Available on Apple podcast and Spotify.

Published by Kaytie

Disney scholar, mom, educator, and Disney villain fan.

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