Why It’s Time to Get Rid of Standardized Tests

Research repeatedly shows that tests heavily advantage some and disadvantage others. So why do we still rely on them?

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Do standardized achievement tests unfairly advantage white and Asian students and disadvantage the rest? According to a group of educational organizations and civil rights groups the answer is yes. The recently filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education pointing out that black and Latino students in New York score below whites and Asians on standardized tests so consistently that although they are almost 70% of the overall student body, they are only 11% of students enrolled at elite public schools. As a result, the complaint argues that New York City is in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act because schools rely on a test that advantages one racial group over another.

This is not the only instance where race has become an important factor for how standardized tests are used in public education. Just last month public schools in both Virginia and Washington D.C. announced targets for how many students in each racial group must pass for schools to remain in good standing. For example, in Virginia only 45% of black students in each school must pass standardized math tests while 68% of whites, and 82% of Asians must do the same. Officials say that these plans are not discriminatory because students who are the farthest behind must progress the most, but critics reason that if one expects less from some students, those lower educational expectations will become a self-fulfilling prophecy for school districts and those students will fall even farther behind.

(MORE: Why Do We Care More About Diversity on TV Than In Our Schools?)

What these recent developments make clear is that instead of setting different educational benchmarks for groups based on race or income, it may simply be time for us to stop relying so heavily on standardized tests to begin with. Though opinions differ as to why, on k-12 achievement tests and college entrance exams, lower income students, as well as black and Latino students, consistently score below privileged white and Asian students. These gaps persist despite decades of research and numerous studies attempting to explain and then close them. One theory suggests that students with grandparents who have graduated from college always score higher, suggesting that the tests unfairly penalize students who are the first in their family to attend college. Whatever the explanation, it is difficult to reconcile why we rely on such tests when we know that they so heavily advantage some and disadvantage others.

(MORE: Why the Online Education Craze Will Leave Many Students Behind)

And if the standardized testing gap between racial minorities is bad, it’s nothing compared to the gap between the poor and the wealthy. For example, one recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that the gap for achievement test scores between rich and poor have grown by almost 60% since the 1960s and are now almost twice as large as the gap between white students and children of other races. The playing field is far from level when we continue to use tests where we know at the outset that wealthy students will do better than less wealthy students and white and Asian students will outperform blacks and Latinos.

One thing all this research has shown us is that the issue lies with how we use these tests, not with the kids who take them. Just consider the history of standardized tests which — according to Columbia University Professor Nicholas Lemann’s history of the Educational Testing Service, The Big Test: The Secret History of Americas Meritocracy — were first developed in the 1940s as a way to exclude Jewish students from Ivy League campuses. Interestingly, Stanley Kaplan, today one of the largest test preparation organizations, got its start when Mr. Kaplan resolved to come up with test-taking techniques to “beat the test” and ensure that such students did well.

(MORE: In Defense of School Testing)

Today, as an acknowledgment of the inherent racial and economic inequity of standardized achievement tests, hundreds of colleges have already stopped requiring the SAT for college admission decisions. However, the same cannot be said for k-12, where scores on achievement tests are in part used for everything from admitting students to prestigious public schools to placing students in gifted or remedial programs, allocating federal funding, and even evaluating teachers.

A growing number of parents, school boards, teachers and civil rights organizations are beginning to question the fairness of our overreliance on standardized tests and recently over 300 groups, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund signed a petition to ask congress to ban the use of such tests. Given the recent developments in Washington D.C. and Virginia, it would seem that it’s about time.

MORE: What Distinguishes a Superschool from the Rest

136 comments
mdog966
mdog966

Just wrote an AP English Language and Composition essay on this controversial issue actually:


Before I just copy and paste the whole thing for any crazy or bored person to read, I suppose I could frankly state my opinion as a current Junior in high school with maybe a bit more ethos on the subject, for once in my life, than my elders:


1) We cannot simply stop standardized testing (even more frankly, to those of you who think this is the answer: you are stupid.) It's situated itself into our education system, not for vain reasons, but because taking tests helps us identify the gaps in learning that the article mentions so that we may address them.


2) The author of this article is completely one-sided in her argument (granted, I skimmed the article itself) and needs to open her mind to the "other side."


Here's an example of a strong opposing argument:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/science/21memory.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0


But honestly people, our say doesn't carry much weight, so I leave you with this ironical, thought-provoking scene before I post my essay:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLCyYGuFqiA


tywinky
tywinky

The culprit is the American education system PERIOD. It is a national tragedy that ALL schools are not equal; equal in terms of classes offered, rigor, quality of facilities, books, teachers and support staff. Poor and low-income children are unfairly punished for their socioeconomic circumstances that they have nothing to do with; likewise, wealthier students are rewarded for their socioeconomic circumstances, of which they have nothing to do with. Yet, both sets oaf students are expected to compete for the same seats in college admission. How does this make sense??? QUALITY EDUCATION must be equal for all students, beginning in pre-K.

TaraRahman
TaraRahman

Some people say that testing is good because it helps you learn and other kids in the whole world cant have what we have .I believe.....http://ogibogi.com/node/18365 for details.

w.ot.tum.
w.ot.tum.

I bet you 100% that jlarge is a white cis man. Wow. Read the rest of the comments and the lot of you are most likely white. "Playing the race card" ."But if you try harder, we all succeed!!!" Educate yourselves, and let me call you what white people find the most offensive thing to be called...racists.


jlarge
jlarge

Your article is basically awful.  This is what happens when someone who does not understand learning processes makes claims about education.  This argument is entirely made on the surface of the problem.  Removing standardized test is not going to improve minorities performance on them.  It is not going to improve the knowledge they have in preparation of more advanced learning.  What system does the author propose we choose students for elite schools?  Should we divide them up equally by race?  No, (according to the author)  because that would be granting different privliges to different races.  Should we do away with challenging schools or programs.  No.  We obviously need schools that are going to give kids a chance to challenge themselves and their learning.  So how would the author propose that we choose the kids that are going to the schools?

Research in educational and cognitive psychology reveals that testing, believe it or not, is a great way to figure out what people know.  Standardized tests are focused on core concepts that students should be progressing on in order to advance their learning.  Secondly, standardized tests are not biased.  Studies have examined this question and found little, if any difference attributed to racial or cultural differences in standardized test questions.  The difference is the SES and the culture of the children.  That is not to say there is no problem, there is a large race inequality in this country, dating back many decades.  A solution should be  systematically improving the SES and the priorities of the cultures of the races in question.  The former is not a quick fix, but the latter is malleable throughout the lifetime of the individual.  Cultural minorities do succeed much to the contrast of this authors thesis.  Asians are minorities.  They prize education and therefore succeed.  Jewish people are minorities.  They prize education and therefore succeed.  To combat this problem we have to understand more about learning processes and how to implement these processes in all cultures and SES backgrounds and make efforts to teach and test on these processes.  

Fortunately for the future of the education system, we are not dependent on the views or policies of this author.  I am aware of racial inequality and I am performing research from the inside of the individual's mind out, instead of making surface complaints that black kids just aren't succeeding and taking away testing is going to provide some kind of solution.  What is your end goal with this.  I would love to see an outline of what a non-test education system looks like in our country.  Please Mrs. Rooks, try to understand science, before making blanket claims about race and making assertions about systematic oppression of testing.  There is very much systematic oppression but it is not coming from testing.  Please, please, get your s**t together and write something intelligible.    

tbowse
tbowse

Not to mention it says the gap has grown by 40% not 60% like you claim in this article.

tbowse
tbowse

Annie E. Casey Study didn't find that the income gap is double the black-white gap. That was in Reardon's Stanford report which the Casey report cited. 

D.Scott
D.Scott

I always question articles that quantify some statements followed ambiguous statements.  "... privileged white and Asian students",   "...achievement test scores between rich and poor have grown by almost 60%..."

Quantify who is considered 'privledged' and who is considered 'rich' or 'poor'.  Making over or under $100k, $50k?  Living in a $500k or $100k house?


LindaHoskins
LindaHoskins

While I share the article's concern that testing has become an overblown part of our education system, I seriously question some of the underlying assumptions about race the author demonstrates. For example, if blacks or Latinos consistently score lower on tests, why is the test the culprit? Why isn't there soul-searching in the black and Latino community as to why their children are falling behind? Why are they not trying to raise their children's test scores by encouraging parental involvement in the education process? It seems like the answer the author is suggesting is simply to stop asking difficult questions.   

1neekehurley
1neekehurley

I can't believe we're still playing this race card. And forcing these kids to take these standardized exams. If kids were aware of alternatives-legitimate ones- toward increases earnings and independence from parents, this might not be an issue. So many adults are failing the youth. Work-work-work is clearly not the answer

MickeyLogan
MickeyLogan

And by the way, Noliwe - try growing up poor and white in this country.

MickeyLogan
MickeyLogan

Of course these tests are discriminatory -- in favor of students who work hard and study

fco1922
fco1922

The simple reality is that the SATs are much more important at large public universities than they are at highly competitive universities. I've worked in college admissions at two highly competitive colleges and we spent a great deal of time reviewing a students' performance, background, interests etc. You'd be astonished how many students we admitted with low SAT scores. Conversely, when I worked at a major state university, SAT mattered a lot as we used an "index" score. We simply did not have the time or  resources to evaluate applications. 

dragonfliye
dragonfliye

I've worked for the same company for over 12 years and never once have I had to take a standardized test.  If school is supposed to prepare students for a post-school existence, i.e. working in corporate or other environments, the standardized test is not much preparation.  Everything in our society has evolved over the last 200 years, everything except how children are educated.  

KaylaLynee
KaylaLynee

Dear Editor of Why It’s Time to Get Rid of Standardized Test, your proclaim that these standardized test taken annually should be removed due to the fact that they are relied on too heavily and do not set an academic goal or educational benchmark for certain groups such as ethnicity groups or income class, I agree with. I believe if teachers only teach what is considered standard, you lose the creative spark most students get when learning about a certain topic they are interested in. When using daily life experiences and happenings you find that the children grow enthralled and have a drive and curiosity in the knowledge of the teaching plan. I am convinced that standardized tests hold children back from their future and learning abilities. Let’s put a stop to standardized testing and lets focus of our children’s education and future.

arturochuwy12345
arturochuwy12345

Dear Noliwe M. Rooks,Your TIME opinion article “Why It’s Time to Get Rid of Standardized Tests” on October 11, 2012 got me really thinking on how test would be with out standardized sheets.I disagree with you because all students are different and have other ways to study or do there best on tests. You said that students in New York, Virginia, and Washington D.C. score below Asians and whites. But what about the rest of the states? Blacks and Latinos can do as well as whites and Asians.One theory that I so totally disagree is “students with grandparents who have graduated from college always score higher”. Not all students had grandparents that graduated from college. Some students score higher in there tests and did not have any family that went to college or school. Parents and family are the ones that encourage there kids to do more and to be more in life.I am a senior in High School and you say that “Hundreds of colleges have already stopped requiring the SAT (Rooks)”. I been applying for colleges and all the colleges that I have been applying for require the SAT scores. To me I don’t think that standardized tests will be removed because a lot of schools still use them and are easy to grade.Thank You for bringing up such a great topic. I think it brought a lot of people thinking on how it would be with out standardized tests.Love, Arturo

mtngoatjoe
mtngoatjoe

If the test is broken, then fix the test. The problem with doing away with standardized tests is that everyone is left with no meaningful way to judge progress (or lack thereof). Many of the students in my class (20 years ago) graduated simply by showing up enough. Teachers are often gave passing grades to get students up and out. There was no accountability.

I won't argue that there isn't bias built into the tests. I don't know. But we all know a few things are going on:

 - Poorer students don't do as well

 - Minority students don't do as well

 - Parents are the biggest influence in a child's success

 - Schools and teachers that have no accountability often take advantage of that fact

Like I said, if the test is broken, then fix the test. But getting rid of testing leads to all the problems standardized testing was trying to solve (namely accountability and a fair assessment of a student's ability).

Michael Wellman
Michael Wellman

Without standardized tests, how do we objectively know whether we are improving or degrading the quality of education with various curriculum changes?  How do we know whether a school system in Mississippi is on par with a school system in New York, or whether either needs to improve, and by how much?  Standardized tests are necessary to provide an objective measure by which we can determine if changes to our school systems make them better or worse.  Without them, it becomes extremely subjective and even more politically driven than it currently is, and it becomes a great disservice to the millions of school children throughout the country when adults start fighting over what way they "think" is best, without any sort of proof or metrics to back up their claims.

But then, what do I know... I'm a white guy who scored in the 98-99 percentile on every single standardized test I've ever taken... so perhaps I'm biased.

Mr. Wonderful
Mr. Wonderful

There is a typo in the third sentence of this article.

I am upset that the author did not go into detail concerning the disparity among rich and poor, specifically why the disparity is so wide. I have done countless research on the subject using publicly offered data concerning proficiency testing and standardized testing and the overwhelmingly significant factor is that rich parents can afford to hire tutors/advisors of the tests (ESPECIALLY the standardized SAT I/II,ACT) in order to not only understand the dynamics of the tests but to also memorize the material that explicitly shows up on the test repeatedly. 

I appreciate the revelation here but there is little that is gone into depth by the author regarding these factors. Merely saying that the rich do better than the poor is almost trivial. The rich tend to do better in all things than the poor (given resources). But the real importance is WHY! Nonetheless, I appreciate the validity and truth to these results.

Margaret Budington Livingstone
Margaret Budington Livingstone

Like this to infinity and beyond. Let's get back to real teaching and learning. Standardized testing only exists to fill the coffers of Bush friends like Pearson, and has been shown through research to not measure the real knowledge of the students, nor the real effectiveness of the teachers. Ask your local teachers.

CMcGov
CMcGov

My Dad was a  NY social worker in the 50's. He commented that the majority of blacks are lazy.  I had numerous jobs from hell, and I can see it big time.  So toughen up, stop with the bs and crack down on learning. 

CMcGov
CMcGov

My Dad was a social worker in ny in the 50's, he use to say blacks are lazy,  and when I had numerous jobs from hell throughout the years, I can agree.  So its up to them to stop the bs and crack down on learning.

Ambika Mathur
Ambika Mathur

Race aside, I'm studying for the GRE and it seems like math and english majors might have an easier time preparing than I am!

Brandon McWilliams
Brandon McWilliams

Judging by these comments, I'd say it clearly makes no difference.

Kendra Madison
Kendra Madison

I'm not against getting rid of standardized testing, but I still don't see any logical reason expressed in this article of why the practice isn't fair....because whites an Asians pass more? Sorry but focusing on standardized testing doesn't get to the root of the problem.

傑克森
傑克森

Getting rid of the tests completely still advantage some and disadvantage others. I think it appropriate to find the way to face problems and improve the test systems.

Om Dennis
Om Dennis

Standardized tests will work if we are clear on skills we wish to test and the test-takers we are testing. However, we have gone to the extreme of testing competencies that do not lend themselves to standardized testing. Furthermore, too many people have come to believe that such tests are the only legitimate measures of academic progress. Educators started it, parents expect it = vicious cycle.

Carolyn Pierce
Carolyn Pierce

In addition to my comment above....I think it's more important to assess students' literacy & critical thinking skills, perhaps by writing a comparative essay (on paper or computer). Even young children could be assessed using that method, & it could be done orally.

Johnny Galty
Johnny Galty

No. Roots out losers. Why democrats are losers? They cant find anyone qualified so they play the guilt & used car salesman trick. So, because America had slaves, won wars, belives in God, and no women vote, you must vote for obama and pelosi affirmative action types to make things even. Time to think & vote out the token losers, bullies, and morons. This is America. Home of God, church, family, Superbowl, NASCAR, etc... Not elitist, snakes, liars, and apologists. Vote republican across the board.

Carolyn Pierce
Carolyn Pierce

Yes, it's time to eliminate standardized testing. Many intelligent people are not good test takers. And many who do well simply have learned the strategies for doing well on standardized tests. One of the many problems which can affect outcome is the lack of proper training for teachers administering standardized tests.

Om Dennis
Om Dennis

I agree we ought to chuck it. But one way or another, we'll create another version of the same beast.

Hayk Hovhannisyan
Hayk Hovhannisyan

Oh, i got, its about accepting and promoting guys just RANDOMLY, regardless their abilities..

Jodie Anne Gastel
Jodie Anne Gastel

I agree with Tracie - tests show how well you can take tests and memorize things. Everywhere else in the real world, we have access to our peers, or reference materials both in books or now the Internet. What is that anecdote? That Einstein didn't even know his own phone number? This was because "You don't have to know everything, you only have to know how to find it." Standardized tests don't test for that, they only show who is best at parroting.

Hayk Hovhannisyan
Hayk Hovhannisyan

I dont get the point, does article say that brains of blacks and latino are different in structure?

Marco Salgado
Marco Salgado

Don't worry about it, education is overrated anyways.

William Beschman Jr.
William Beschman Jr.

Life is a test. The sooner you learn to pass, the better you'll be. For people who are truly at a disadvantage (dyslexia, for example) then there are alternative methods of testing, but enough of graduating people who cannot read simply because their peer group has completed their sentence at the local high school.

Tracie Lin Hamilton
Tracie Lin Hamilton

It favors good test takers, who sometimes are academically lazy. I think standardized testing should only be used to determine aptitude or pin point kids whose grades are a poor indicator of their intelligence.

Karan Goel
Karan Goel

This sounds similar to the demand by many groups in India to conduct CAT exam(for admission to IIM's) in regional language as it is disadvantage to students who don't know English very well...

fco1922
fco1922

@Michael Wellman As someone who has worked in college admissions, the SAT isn't really needed to compare students as admissions officer know schools in their areas well. We are very aware what an "A" at one school is equivalent to at another. It is for this reason that some very high performing schools don't even offer AP courses since all their courses are at this level. Moreover, in evaluating SAT scores we always take into account the students environment, the quality of their education, and any factors that may have placed them at a comparative advantage or disadvantage. The truth is that you can get in with excellent grades and low SAT scores, but rarely the reverse.

Woodwick
Woodwick

@CMcGov 

I hope you're joking! Your racism is shining through, big time.  Also, it's not easy for non-white students to "crack down" and succeed in North American schools, because the school system and curriculum is tailored to meet the needs of white, middle class students.  Eurocentric curriculum and deficit discourse around non-white students prevails, and I don't blame certain students for not "buying in" to an education system that undervalues or even condemns their lived experiences.

fco1922
fco1922

@CMcGov Having worked in college admissions for years, the same could be said for many whites. I was always astonished at the number of blockheads there are out in the suburbs. 

fco1922
fco1922

@傑克森 The truth is that tests don't really matter at the highly competitive/selective universities. They are mostly used at large public institutions.

w.ot.tum.
w.ot.tum.

@فراس الشامي  I like how no one commented on this.

Woodwick
Woodwick

@Hayk Hovhannisyan 

No.  That argument has been used in the past, but it's basically racist arguments based on "pseudo-science" to justify racial hierarchies in society.  This article doesn't go into details as to why blacks and latinos are performing lower on the test, but uses these differences to show that the test is culturally biased.   

MickeyLogan
MickeyLogan

@Woodwick  How dare you condemn blacks to lives of flipping burgers (or worse - living on the government teat) - because you think math and science are "tailored to meet the needs of white, middle class students."  What, do you think black students are too dumb to get calculus? Shame on you.

Momto5daughters
Momto5daughters

@Woodwick @MickeyLogan Let me throw a real monkey wrench in; home schooled students of all races and economic levels perform better on standardized testing than public and private schooled students. School performance and testing depend on the households commitment to education. In many poor households, parents don't have that luxury of time to push towards education, nor the tools. Latinos are often working with a language gap, and sadly, in my experience, many African Americans just don't see education as a ticket out. This is my problem with education in this country. We can't teach each child according to his ability. Teachers simply aren't to blame, the system they must put up with often ties their hands. Are there bad teachers? Sure, just like there are bad electricians, plumbers, bankers, politicians, hairdressers, business people, etc. Add into this a standardized test which says every child must acquire the same skills at the same time and you have the recipe for mediocrity and bias. In the state I live, homeschoolers are required to test with some standardized test every three years starting in third grade. We don't even look at what is on the tests, just teach every day. When we get our scores back, we look in depth at the scores and decide, was this a fair assessment of where they are? Did I already know this information? What do we need to do in order to work on the areas the tests say we are weak? Am I using a mediocre curriculum? Should I have them tested for a learning disability? If public school teachers had this freedom, public education would improve.

Woodwick
Woodwick

@MickeyLogan @Woodwick 

Not at all.  I disagree with essentializing any group of people.  "Race" and intelligence are not related.  Which is exactly why we need to get to the underlying reasons why some cultural groups are scoring better on standardized tests than others, without blaming any of the test takers.  It's important too look at the type of knowledge that is being tested.  What knowledge systems are represented? What type of writing is privileged? How can we have a "standardized" test when students do not have a "standardized" upbringing?  We all come from different places, learn different things in our homes and in our community.  What about students who speak languages other than English at home?  They should be rewarded in the school systems, but these standardized tests don't acknowledge student strengths such as additional languages (or different varieties of English).  Success in schools is highly dependent on conforming to a norm that, unfortunately, is based on Euro-American (aka white, anglo-saxon) standards.  In that way, schools perpetuate a neo-colonialism, that rewards only assimilation to a status-quo that was defined through colonialism and imperialism.