Top Pro & Con Arguments


Standardized tests are racist, classist, and sexist.

The origin of American standardized tests are those created by psychologist Carl Brigham, PhD, for the Army during World War I, which was later adapted to become the SAT. The Army tests were created specifically to segregate soldiers by race, because at the time science inaccurately linked intelligence and race. [74]

Racial bias has not been stripped from standardized tests. W. James Popham, PhD, Professor Emeritus at the University of California at Los Angeles and former test maker, explains how discrimination is purposefully built in to standardized tests, “Traditionally constructed standardized achievements, the kinds that we’ve used in this country for a long while, are intended chiefly to discriminate among students … to say that someone was in the 83rd percentile and someone is at 43rd percentile. And the reason you do that is so you can make judgments among these kids. But in order to do so, you have to make sure that the test has in fact a spread of scores. One of the ways to have that test create a spread of scores is to limit items in the test to socioeconomic variables, because socioeconomic status is a nicely spread out distribution, and that distribution does in fact spread kids’ scores out on a test.” [75]

As Young Whan Choi, Manager of Performance Assessments Oakland Unified School District in Oakland, California, explains, “Too often, test designers rely on questions which assume background knowledge more often held by White, middle-class students. It’s not just that the designers have unconscious racial bias; the standardized testing industry depends on these kinds of biased questions in order to create a wide range of scores.” Choi offers an example from his own 10th grade class, “a student called me over with a question. With a puzzled look, she pointed to the prompt asking students to write about the qualities of someone who would deserve a “key to the city.” Many of my students, nearly all of whom qualified for free and reduced lunch, were not familiar with the idea of a ‘key to the city.’” [76]

Wealthy kids, who would be more familiar with a “key to the city,” tend to have higher standardized test scores due to differences in brain development caused by factors such as “access to enriching educational resources, and… exposure to spoken language and vocabulary early in life.” [77] Plus, as Eloy Ortiz Oakley, MBA, Chancellor of California Community Colleges, points out, “Many well-resourced students have far greater access to test preparation, tutoring and taking the test multiple times, opportunities not afforded the less affluent… [T]hese admissions tests are a better measure of students’ family background and economic status than of their ability to succeed” [78]

Journalist and teacher Carly Berwick explains, “All students do not do equally well on multiple choice tests, however. Girls tend to do less well than boys and perform better on questions with open-ended answers, according to a 2018 study by Stanford University’s Sean Reardon, which found that test format alone accounts for 25 percent of the gender difference in performance in both reading and math. Researchers hypothesize that one explanation for the gender difference on high-stakes tests is risk aversion, meaning girls tend to guess less.” [68]

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