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Racism, Sexism, & Classism in Standardized Testing

January 15, 2010

Cross-posted with Ashley Lauren’s Small Strokes blog

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.

6 Comments
  1. Don permalink
    January 15, 2010 9:48 pm

    Emily,
    I agree w/ you on the class issue. I never really thought of that aspect. I also agree w/ you about the blatant sexism on the GRE and test preparation material. However, when 58% of the graduate students in the U.S. are women, I am not sure the GRE or test material really needs to be changed. If the level of the playing field was even the percentage of women in graduate school would be even higher than it is now. It just seems like we are heading in the direction of where Jamaica is today…where women make up 70%-90% of the higher education enrollment and men are getting left behind.

    http://www.truthforce.info/index.php?q=node/view/1608

    Just my opinion.

  2. rebekah manning permalink
    January 18, 2010 12:39 pm

    This was my situation exactly. I am female and a first time high school graduate who has decided to go on to college. I could not afford to take the ACT prep course (It was five hundred dollars through my school), so I went in as prepared as I could be (I went to the local library and checked out the books that I could find to help me with the test.) I had to work overtime for a month and bust my ass to get as many tips as possible at my job to be able to afford the money for the test (yes $40 is that big of an issue when you are trying to help your single mom support her other two children). Sending in my application was another problem. The ACT website doesn’t recognize my school, and so I had to sit on the phone with a representative for an hour to sign up for the test. This was an additional twenty dollars that they applied to my fee for the “assistance”, mind you its their problem for not having the school on there in the first place. I don’t have a printer at home so I had to go to the library again to be able to print my “ticket” the piece of paper stating that I had indeed paid my fee and was signed up for the test, this was an additional dollar, as the page has to be printed in color and the color ink is more expensive. Two days before the test I woke up with the flu. I called and begged to have my test changed to the next testing date, but the people at the ACT don’t care about that. They also refused to refund my .money, and since I could not afford to waste the $40 dollars I had to go take the ACT with the flu and a fever of 103. Needless to say I did not do as well as I could have, nor could I afford to take the test again. My college had done pre-acceptance without my score and was waiting on my score for my class placement and scholarship information. I was placed in lower classes than I should have been based on those scores, which put me behind where I needed to be. The ACT is so beyond classicist that its not even funny. I wish there was something that we as citizens could do to change this, and change it now. I would hate to think of other people going through what I have gone through at the hands of the ACT corporation.

    • January 18, 2010 8:17 pm

      That’s horrible, Rebekah. I hear those incidents all the time about students trying to sign up for the ACT/SAT, and you cannot get refunded your test fee if you are sick.

      I agree with you; the ACT should be changed or seriously considered as an admission for college. There should be more leniency in rescheduling. You should also not be fined for registering your high school in the ACT system (that’s ridic!).

  3. Don permalink
    January 18, 2010 5:32 pm

    The following article on the SAT is very interesting:

    http://www.fairtest.org/gender-bias-college-admissions-tests

    When they first started using the SAT men were outscoring women on the math section; and women were outscoring men on the verbal section of the test. When the trend continued of women scoring higher than men on the verbal section it was considered a “problem.” So, they changed questions that would benefit men in order to correct the “problem.” And since they corrected the “problem” men have outscored women ever since. Maybe the test needs to be changed again after all…so that every section of the test is gender neutral. If this occurred women would obviously score alot higher on their tests. And with women already making up the majority of enrollment in higher education a gender neutral test would obviously increase their numbers even higher than what they already are…

    • January 18, 2010 8:13 pm

      That’s crazy, I did not know about that change in the SAT!

      Unfortunately, though, there’s no way to make a test gender neutral. Just like it can’t be race neutral, class neutral, etc.

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