Standardized Testing Reinforces Racial Privilege

Sayda Morales

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Whitties come from all different walks of life, but what we all share in common is that we all had to endure standardized testing in order to get here. You remember that feeling in the months, weeks and days leading up to the test as you tried to use all the opportunities at your disposal to ensure you received the best score possible. Some of you may have been lucky enough to have hired tutors or others of you may have bought books and studied on your own.

Either way, if you are white, it did not matter what you did to prepare for the SAT or ACT, because from the outset you already had an advantage over students of color.

In theory, standardized tests are objective and non-discriminatory evaluations that can be used to assess a student’s ability to apply the skills that they have learned. However, because students of color consistently perform worse than their white counterparts due to differing processes of socialization and societal pressures, these tests have become a mere platform for white students to excel and exploit their privilege.

Recent studies have shown that “minorities” such as Hispanics and Blacks consistently perform worse than whites and “smart minorities” on basically all standardized tests, even after controlling for other factors such as socioeconomic status. Some reasons for this phenomenon include test questions that presuppose traditionally “white” or middle-class knowledge, especially in analogy questions. Another issue is that biased proctors are often suspicious of students of color. As a result, students of color feel pressure from white proctors that expect them to fail.

This fear of failure is known as stereotype threat and is one that bogs down students of color to the point where they actually do fail. Stereotype and experience convince many students of color that we will not excel scholastically, especially if their parents did not make it past high school. Capable students of color are so intimidated by the threat of perpetuating these stereotypes that they are almost paralyzed with jitters when taking these tests.

Consequently, their test scores negatively reflect this. In an experiment that demonstrated the effects of stereotype threat, identical test questions were given to whites and blacks. When the students were notified that their answers would not be scored, the effects of stereotype threat disappeared and black students performed just as well and at times better than their white counterparts.

Therefore, it is clear that standardized tests are not fair or accurate representations of a student’s scholastic propensity or intellect. Many education reformers have encouraged colleges to measure students based on portfolios, collections of tests, essays and other assessments that show overall improvement. Others advocate for elimination of standardized testing altogether.

Whitman itself cannot bridge the gap between students of color and white students in regard to high school standardized testing scores, but we can follow the lead of the other 775 schools in the country that are now test optional. Wake Forest is among those schools, and with that switch the percentage of undergraduate students of color enrolled increased from 18 to 23 percent.

If Whitman were to, at the very least, switch to being test optional, we could see a dramatic increase in the number of students of color present at this school. If we truly long for diversity like we claim, Whitman should take steps like these to correct for racially biased testing practices.

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