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Cultural And Racial Bias In Standardized Testing

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In the United States the test-taking industry is a multibillion dollar practice. In the 1960’s testing companies began to exert a strong influence over education. Their salesmen convinced many school districts that multiple-choice achievement tests were the best way to rate student performance. They also persuaded the federal government that these tests were the best way to measure the progress of students in special programs like Chapter 1. In the 1980’s several major reports concluded that many children were not learning much in the nation’s schools. Instead of taking a comprehensive look at education and trying to reform it, standardized tests became more important. They began being used to evaluate programs, schools and entire districts. By 1987 more than 100 million standardized tests were given each year in the nation’s classrooms. (Steering Committee)

Standardized tests are thus a cornerstone of the American public school system. Starting as early as preschool, they are designed to measure student’s intelligence, aptitude and ability to retain knowledge. These tests can very well determine a student’s future in the school system. For example the SAT-1s play a huge role in college acceptance. Yearly IQ and assessment tests can be the deciding factor in student placement. However, they are rarely as valid as they claim to be. They have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be incredibly biased towards students of different, race, gender, ethnicity and economic status. With biased and often ludicrous questions they do very little to determine the worth of a child. Also, fixation on these tests deflects attention from fundamental educational issues and problems, thus hindering reform and necessary change. As Edmund Holmes wrote in 1778 “as we tend to value the results of education for their measurableness, we tend to undervalue and at last ignore those results which are too intrinsically valuable to be measured.” (Kornhaber & Orfield, pg 93) This paper will attempt to explore and understand first the utter importance of these tests, and the damage they are doing to the youth of America.

Over the years, tests developed by companies, not educators have come to define our educational system. Government endorsements such as the No Child Left behind Act, which requires all states to implement statewide assessment exams, which must then be submitted and made public; are tightening the standardized test’s grip on the youth of America. There are four principles, compiled over the past twenty years, which illustrate the way in which tests can completely transform educational practices.

1. The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more likely it will be to distort and corrupt the education process it is intended to monitor. This is a social version of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.-Donald Campbell (1986)

2. One of the necessary conditions for measurement-driven instruction to work is that valued rewards or serious sanctions are perceived to be triggered by test performance. If teachers perceive that important decisions are related to test results, they will teach to the test.- John Cannel (1988)

3. When test stakes are high, past exams often come to define the curriculum. Once high-stakes testing program has been in place for several years, teachers see the kind of intellectual activity required by the previous test questions and prepare students to meet their demands.-F.T. Spalding (1990)

4. When teaching to the rest, teachers pay attention to the form of the test as well as the content. When this occurs, the form of the question can narrow the focus of instruction, study, and learning to the detriment of other skills. вЂ"National Institutes of Education. (1992) (Kornhaber & Orfield, pg 95)

In 1986 the use of nationwide MCT (Minimum Competency Tests) provided some intriguing data. States with the ten highest and lowest high school drop-out rates were studied. The research found that the states with higher drop out rates used the tests for graduation and allowance and grade promotion. The states with lower drop out rates did not place nearly as much emphasis on test results.

In some cases, the desire for higher test scores even prompted schools to have children repeat kindergarten or worse, not allow them to enter at all.

It is easy to see the potential power of tests. Students are no longer asked to learn, but to memorize styles of questioning and response. This is a complete bastardization of education and is in no way related to true intelligence.

Over the years countless studies have been conducted which show the unfairness and unevenness of tests and results. In 1992 a nationwide study by the National Science Foundation found that classrooms with high numbers of minority children are affected significantly more than those that are mostly white.

In 1996 the National Association for Education Progress (NAEP) found that literary proficiency for black 17 year olds was almost equal to that of white 13 year olds. Among its other findings were that 16 percent of minorities achieve levels exceeded by 50 percent of whites. Also, 75 percent of math and science teachers felt pressure from the district to have high test scores when there were a lot of minorities as opposed to only 60 percent of teachers who taught a majority of Caucasians. (Kornhaber & Orfield, 95) This signifies tests have more consequences for minorities, who ironically are doing worse on these tests.

The 2000 NAEP reading assessment of fourth graders found that 73 percent of whites perform at a basic level, however; only 37 percent of Blacks and 42 percent of perform equally.

The Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) found that Black and Hispanic students dropped out of high school at a significantly higher rate than whites. Also, the grade 9/12 enrollment ratio for minorities has dipped considerately since 1990 but has remained stable for whites. According to a webpage maintained by Time and Princeton review the SAT-1’s and ACTs consistently favor white males as they tend to score higher than other groups. (Zwick, 111)

These disparities are showing up as early as 3 years old. Black preschoolers routinely score much lower than their white counterparts on standard vocabulary tests. (Zwick, 113)

In 1999, California issued a bill calling for test reform stating:

“A test discriminates if there is a statistically significant difference in the outcome of test performance when subjects are compared on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity or economic status. The use of any such test is discrimination



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