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Race, Priviledge, and Standardized Testing

Updated on April 9, 2019

“The degrees to which rich and famous families may have gone to cheat on them [college admission’s test] could become a watershed moment for the rejection of standardized tests at every level of the education system..." said Robert Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest: “We expect the floodgates to start opening.”

Currently, there is an outcry of extreme uncompromising deception being heard in this country regarding standardized testing. “Standardized Tests: A Dilemma for African Americans was published by this author September 2016., however, up until the present time, there has been limited public discourse devoted to standardized testing. But the recent scandals regarding college admission exams has put standardized testing in the path of an oncoming train. Likewise, “ The biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted in the US is a harsh reminder that wealthy families can cheat their way to even greater privilege”. But for decades standardized tests have a been a thorn in the side of many African American and Hispanic students. The reasons for this dilemma are varied and complex. Standardized tests reflect the standards of only one segment of society, thereby making standardized testing a safe criterion by which to close the door of educational attainment to an underrepresented population. Though surprisingly, the tide has shifted, as the affluent have reopened the door to the longstanding debate over the expediency of standardized testing.

Americans cheat on their taxes, they cheat on their spouses, there is also a new Cheating Monopoly game on the market: In 2017 the New York Times accused the New England Patriots of cheating. From card games to board games, cheating is a way of existence for some. And when it comes to standardized testing Andre Green, executive director of FairTest says, “I think it [standardized testing] perfectly encapsulates everything that’s wrong with the system….The stakes are so high, and the system is so focused on test scores that of course, people are going to cheat," And now the cheaters of standardized admission exams are the affluent individuals that the tests were allegedly designed for. Standardized tests often measure knowledge of literature, language, or concepts that white students are more likely to have been exposed to both through better funded educational environments and through participation in white culture” (Dan Hardy). Most of these exams have resulted in large racial gaps in passing rates (Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights).

In the Limelight of Cheating

Now, Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman have given standardized testing a celebrity status. Lori Loughlin gleefully signed autographs as she walked into a courthouse in Boston on April 3 to face criminal charges. Loughlin and her husband, designer Mossimo Giannulli, allegedly paid half a million dollars to have their two daughters categorized as recruits to the USC crew team even though neither participated in the sport. Matt Stone from The Boston Herald depicts the following: “William McGlashan, 55, of Mill Valley, Calif., a senior executive at TPG private equity firm, arrives at the federal courthouse for a hearing associated with the college admissions bribery scandal, Friday, March 29, 2019, in Boston. McGlashan is accused of paying bribes to get his son into USC as a recruit for the college's storied football team, even though his son’s high school didn't have a team”. CEOs, investment executives, real estate developers, and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, have been implicated in a college admissions scheme in which authorities say they paid a consultant to rig their children's test scores and bribe coaches at sought-after schools like Yale, Georgetown and the University of Southern California.


The alleged list of recent schemes for cheating on college admission tests include hiring impersonators to take the exams; making phony “disability” claims to gain extra test-taking time; paying to change wrong answers or fill in missing responses, and bribing proctors and test-site supervisors to ignore these illegal acts."

Standardized testing is a form of test that requires all students to answer the same questions, in the same way, and to be compared by the performance to another student on the other side of the country. According to researches for higher order learning, what the multiple-choice tests sidesteps, however, is judgment. It is called objective, not because it is an accurate measure of what a child knows but because there is no subjective element in the grading. There is a grading key that tells each teacher what is right and what is wrong. Teacher’s judgment is not a factor in determining how much a child knows.

Ultimately, such a widely based examination is bound to be riddled with defects. Test questions are primarily constructed in a manner that reflects the learning of affluent students. So, one might wonder, if affluence can provide all the tools necessary to pass standardized tests—including meticulously worded questions—why scheme and cheat? Could it be that the impartiality of the test is too disconnected for the wealthy and the disadvantaged? Katlyn Yang, ( says that “The United States should banish standardized testing because it creates stress and fear for students, it also does not provide feedback on how to improve or prove anything other than a student’s ability to take a test”. Yet, it appears that the affluent have worked their way around the mulberry bush, affording their children the likelihood of reaping the benefits of cheating on an unlevel playing field to gain academic prowess.

Built-in Bias

“From grade school to college, students of color have suffered the effects of biased testing” (JOHN ROSALES). As millions of immigrants came from Europe beginning in the 19th century, the day’s leading social scientists, many of them White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, were troubled by the influx of non-whites into the nation’s public schools. To calm the seas of discontent, psychologist Carl Brigham wrote that African-Americans were on the low end of the racial, ethnic, and/or cultural spectrum. Subsequently, Brigham helped to develop aptitude tests for the U.S. Army during World War I and these tests were influential in the development of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). The tests were reflective of what was and should be shared knowledge among a target group of society.

Brigham and other social scientists considered the SAT a new psychological testing instrument, and when Frederick J. Kelly invented the multiple-choice test in 1914, he too assisted in furthering the mass testing of a nation of students with diverse backgrounds, distinct cultural experiences as well as unequal educational opportunities. To this end, America’s educational standardized testing history was not born out of a common standard. Today, American public-school students are still taking versions of Kelly’s test. Standardized tests generally measure information and skills that people acquire through schooling. People who do not receive good quality education do not generally perform as well on standardized tests leading some advocates and researchers to point to cultural biases in tests.

Testing expert Jay Rosner says that the SAT shows a pattern of discarding possible test questions that black students get right more often than white students in field tests because they are seeking to maintain the reliability of the test, which means considering the relatively higher scores of white test-takers. Accordinlgy, what the test measure best is who has had access to higher or lower quality education. The disadvantage “…become part of the [testing] pattern by which under-privileged students are reframed as less intelligent, or less hard-working, and less deserving of higher education or employment opportunity” (The African American Policy Forum).

While working in an alternative educational program, with most of the students being African American, this writer was opposed by the white program director after having asked for new textbooks. The director indicated that the students were not going to graduate anyway so let them keep reading comic books. False expectations of students of color often program teachers to teach down to students of color. Unequal facilities and limited resources also play into an improvised curriculum. Walk into any large urban public school and compare it to the nearest suburban public school. The disparities are magnitudinous.

Between expensive test prep, pricey advisors, unethical, and, [ in some cases] downright illegal behavior, ACT and SAT scores are easily “gamed” by those with financial means according to Andre Green. Other researchers point to the increased competition for admission into the country’s top universities and how the magnified importance of scoring well, has resulted in heightened student and parent anxiety. In 1977 Campbell’s Law reported that “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and ... it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor. . . when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways.” Professor Daniel Koretz, author of The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better. His main point: “excessive high-stakes testing undermines the goals of instruction and meaningful learning.” From Koretz’s point of view, today’s K-12 education system has become overrun by a “naive” devotion to standardized testing. And the New York Times, March 14, 2019 article, “College Cheating Scandal Shows a Standardized Test Isn’t Always a Fair One”, provides more support for this position.

Use Only Number 2 Pencil

"If this scandal is just the tip of the iceberg what can be said about all the disadvantage students who have been denied higher education opportunities that others can pay for?" Income levels, educational attainment, employment rates, housing options, neighborhood crime rates, and resources available to schools, are worse for African Americans and Hispanics, on average, than for whites. These circumstances often lead to fewer opportunities for African American and Hispanic children being able to access a wide range of activities and experience an enriched educational environment from birth onward.

In grades k-12 a growing number of states use test scores as a sole and automatic factor in determining school promotion and graduation. Standardized tests narrow the entire curriculum in many schools, often squeezing out subjects such as music, art, foreign languages, and, especially in elementary grades, social studies, because they are not included in tests. Since reading is more prominent than writing in most tests, teachers spend more time on reading rather than writing, usually focusing on comprehension, not higher-order critical reading skills according to the National Council of Teachers of English. After being shown a room full of textbooks, at the beginning of a fall semester, this writer was authorized not to issue the books until the second week of school because the staff was to focus on teaching for upcoming statewide exams.

The unfair advantage of gaming the educational system is now under the microscope. Standardized test, as the literature suggests, were designed with an inherent bias as they pose questions constructed for white success and engineer questions to stymie all others. Education within the United States is unequal; and segregation is written across the sands of America in housing, employment, and education. But a new shift has caused a great rift in the halls of academe. Children of wealthy white Americans are struggling with standardized tests, too. Apparently, this might not be a new situation but rather a newly uncovered one in the arena of race, privilege, and standardized tests.

“There is only one right answer. Stop when time is called”.


© 2019 Linda Joy Johnson


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