Standardized Testing: Racism, Classism and Discrimination Must No Longer Be The Standard

By Blue Future Youth Contributor, Faith Lanham

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Standardized tests are often used to evaluate applicants to institutions of higher education on a measure of ‘objectivity.’ From the SAT to the Bar exam, these tests are considered a weight of our intelligence.

But these tests do not exactly determine one’s intelligence. Rather, they are heavily influenced by how much money one can spend and how much time one can take off to study. These tests are supposed to be an assessment of how hard one student works. The idea behind these tests is: the more you study, the higher the score you will receive. In reality, the more money a person has to spend on preparation, the higher a score he, she, or they gets.

Now obviously, you will have to work a great amount to get a high score on a standardized test. Taking a course for any standardized test is going to cost a minimum of approximately $4,000. Even if you do not register for a course, let’s examine the costs of taking one of these exams, starting with resources required for the Medical College Admission Test, or more widely known as the MCAT.

MCAT:

The ‘holy grail’ of MCAT study review, the MCAT Subject Review Complete Box Set” is $225. Not to mention any other additional fees you will need to spend including hiring a tutor, purchasing practice exams, etc. To take the MCAT, the fee is $320. Now applying to medical school is a very expensive process, as is the process of applying to any sort of higher education institution.

The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT):

The SAT is the most popular college entrance test exam. An article by Jay Rosner, How the SAT Creates Built-in-Headwinds, examines how the formulation of questions on standardized testing has a demonstrated disparate impact on students from marginalized racial backgrounds:

Compare two 1998 SAT verbal [section] sentence-completion items with similar themes: The item correctly answered by more blacks than whites was discarded by [the Educational Testing Service] (ETS), whereas the item that has a higher disparate impact against blacks became part of the actual SAT. On one of the items, which was of medium difficulty, 62% of whites and 38% of African-Americans answered correctly, resulting in a large impact of 24%…On this second item, 8% more African-Americans than whites answered correctly…

From this quote alone, one can infer that more than one’s intelligence is on the table when taking these exams.

The SAT was actually developed during World War I when a group of Psychologists created the Army Alpha and Army Beta tests to identify the level of intelligence of the new recruitments. They were specifically trying to determine who of those recruits were “mentally inferior.” In 1923, Carl Brigham, who helped develop these tests published the book, A Study of American Intelligence.

Bringham used the data they found to make his book’s main argument:

The decline of American intelligence will be more rapid than the decline of the intelligence of European national groups, owing to the presence here of the negro. These are the plain, if somewhat ugly, facts that our study shows. The deterioration of American intelligence is not inevitable, however, if public action can be aroused to prevent it.

Later Brigham went on to create a test for the College Board which is now the SAT and was made with similar elements as the test developed in WWI.

The Bar Exam:

To take one last deep dive, we will be discussing the Bar exam required to be a practicing lawyer. The Bar is designed so that after students study for three years in law school, they spend anywhere from 3–6 months preparing for the exam. The issue with this timeframe is that not everyone has the luxury of doing nothing for 3–6 but spending a large amount of time studying for an exam. Depending on a state’s Board of Law Examiners (or a state’s equivalent), registering for the exam can cost anywhere from between $100-$1,300.

There have been several state Bar associations that have been accused of discrimination. The Alabama State Bar was sued for having only 28 black lawyers out of a cohort of 3,000. The NAACP and ACLU have sued different Bar associations for finding ways to prevent people of color from becoming lawyers. Not to mention several former law students who have called the Bar exams racist. The NBCSE ignored and destroyed any assumption of racism in the Bar exam:

As those charged with the important responsibility of regulating the legal profession understand, public protection remains a priority even in this time of crisis. Diploma privilege in effect removes the public protection function vested in the courts and places it with the law schools, but with no independent, vetted, objective, or consistent final check on whether graduates are in fact competent to provide legal services. The public, and certainly legal employers, rely on passage of the bar examination as a reliable indicator of whether graduates are ready to begin practice.

These claims are outright wrong and are simply misleading as to the true nature of the Bar exam.

So, what can you do?

As young people continue to look at this fight, we should make sure to advocate for test-free/test-blind programs. Although test-optional programs have been effective, it would be even more beneficial to have test-free/test-blind programs. This may look like organizing a group of people to stand against local universities.

Now, we are here nearly a century after these tests were designed, and racism is still prevalent in the standardized testing process.

This is evident from the classism, to the out-right white supremacy in these tests. Predominately white institutions have the best resources available. If you research any of these tests, you will find out that they are gatekept from low-income areas. These tests disenfranchise low-income, first-generation, and POC students. Standardized tests are racist, classist, and discriminatory.

About Faith: Faith Lanham (she/they) is a junior at Saint Maria Goretti Catholic High School in Hagerstown, Maryland. Outside of Blue Future, she is involved in Coalition Z and other publications she contributes to. Another way she enjoys contributing to her love of stories is by being apart of her school’s book club. She is passionate about Title IX and immigration reform in particular. The thing that most excites her about writing is tell the stories that have not been told by the young people who are going to shape the future.