Racism, Sexism, & Classism in Standardized Testing
I took the GRE back in November after two months of studying. It was a gruesome two months of hard work, but it had to be done in order for me to apply for graduate school. I actually didn’t do so bad on the GRE—in fact, I’m going to take the GRE again in a week, for personal and professional reasons. Unfortunately that won’t be the end of standardized testing for me, given that I’ve chosen to get a master of education where testing will be key in order to be certified as a teacher.
Now that I’m in school, I have some more thoughts about the politics behind standardized testing. I first wrote about standardized testing about two months back on Gender Across Borders here and also posted the same post on Feministing’s Community blog which received a ton of comments. I addressed blatant racism and sexism on the GRE and in test preparation material I used to study with. But I forgot to address something very important.
The last paragraph of my first post stated that “test prep courses cost a ton of money.” I did not delve into the class issue of standardized testing. The title of my first post was “Racism and Sexism in Standardized Testing,” but in reading the comments from the post, I realized that I completely overlooked class as an issue in standardized testing (a faux-pas in Intersectionality 101). One commenter pmsrhino stated that:
…because prep classes (and prep books which are often more expensive than the classes themselves) are so vital to achieving a high score on those tests (as you mentioned yourself, though sometimes it is less learning the material and more learning test taking strategies it still requires being taught to you somehow) it is an EXTREME disadvantage to anyone who is unable to do any preparation. So I think standardized tests are geared much more towards the upper class, with emphasis on opera music and sailing and other such upper class activities and a bigger advantage going to those people who have the resources to put into preparation for those tests. So it’s a nice triple whammy there, sexism, racism, AND classism. Woot.
Therefore, students have a better chance of receiving a higher score on any standardized test if they have the resources to pay for test prep books and take those expensive test prep classes, then someone who cannot afford those valuable resources.
I’m not going to get into whether or not there should be standardized testing, or more specifically, graduate school standardized testing (which was brought up in the comments of the Feministing Community post). However, it’s important to point out that especially young adults, who are preparing to take the SAT and ACT to go to college, are especially disadvantaged in taking these tests. Even more so, those students seeking the first college degree in her/his family must jump over many hurdles to get to the point where they can apply for college. Taking the SAT and/or ACT is another hurdle (which is an application requirement for many colleges) and if their family cannot pay for test prep material and/or a test prep course, their upper class counterpart (who has the same grades and teacher recommendations but a higher SAT/ACT score because they were able to afford test prep material) will have a higher chance of getting into a better college.
Humph, that’s frustrating. Some people want to see the SAT/ACT requirement dropped altogether from college admissions. Not surprisingly, if this requirement was dropped, the number of minority college admits and the number of admits from lower to middle classes would rise (see this interesting article about dropping the SAT).
Unfortunately, I do not think that would happen in the next ten years at least. I suggest that, if the SAT and/or ACT cannot be completely demolished, or revised to best suit all races, classes, and sexes; high schools should not only provide support for students seeking to take these standardized tests for admittance to college, but also provide test preparation material as well as free test prep courses for all students.
Another thing: I wonder about those high school students who have good grades and great teacher recommendations but do poorly on standardized tests—especially those who cannot afford to do better on those tests. In those many cases, I’d hope that their discouragement from the SAT/ACT does not deter them from applying to and attending college. After all, a test is just a test, but a college degree is forever.