MAY HONG '23
The COVID-19 pandemic saw a sudden rise in test-optional schools, and administrators and students alike wonder whether we should continue these policies. Because standardized testing disproportionately disadvantages economic and racial minorities, schools should remain test-optional to narrow academic achievement gaps, incrementally rectifying America’s racist past.
Standardized testing was originally developed to uphold white supremacy. Eugenicist Carl Brigham created the SAT, for example, to “prove” the intellectual superiority of white people and warn against incorporating non-white genes into American society. Through such “measures of intelligence,” white supremacists reinforced oppressive power constructs that continue to influence disparities today. Indeed, 59% of white students satisfy the SAT’s “college readiness math benchmark” compared to only 21% of Black students, according to the Brookings Institution.
Stereotypes contribute to these disparities, as they can lower the exam performance of racial minority students on the SAT. In an experiment by the APA, when SAT proctors implied that Blacks are academically inferior to whites before the test, Blacks performed worse. However, when no stereotype was enforced, Blacks performed equally as well. These findings reveal the threat of stereotypes: negative myths—such as the belief that Black people are genetically inferior—distort a student's impression of themselves, creating self-doubt and stress.
Unfortunately, some minorities combat not only systemic racism, but also classism. The average white American household is nearly ten times wealthier than the average Black or Latino household. Because poverty and race are correlated, an alarmingly large population suffers from this double-disadvantage.
In addition to poverty’s daily challenges, low-income households also face a disadvantage in standardized testing. When comparing the highest and lowest household income brackets, the wealthy scored 400 points more. While SAT costs may seem insignificant for wealthy families, it can be unaffordable for poorer students. Wealthier students also have the opportunity to retake the test if they receive a low score. Because familiarity with the SAT format tends to improve performance, their ability to retake the test increases their advantage. Low-income students, on the other hand, do not have the same flexibility.
Further, wealthier students typically live in districts with more funding and access to resources. With better teachers, students more effectively learn the skills tested on the SAT. Wealthier schools also tend to offer practice material such as the PSAT, in which students who have taken it twice score 200 points better than those who have never taken it.
Lastly, SAT tutors can cost up to $100 an hour, which is only accessible for higher-income students. On average, tutors improve SAT results by 70 to 300 points. Because of the unequal distribution of these privileges, maintaining standardized testing as admissions criteria sustains economic divides.
In general, eliminating standardized testing will benefit minority students, as studies suggest that prioritizing school grades over test scores in the admissions process will make them stronger applicants. Researchers saw a 10-12% increase in minority enrollment in a pool of one hundred test-optional schools. Given the benefits of eliminating standardized testing, permanent test-optional policies are an essential step towards equality.
America prides itself on being “the land of opportunity” where freedom is accessible for all. Maintaining classist and racist systems that disadvantage certain populations contradicts America’s foundational principles; we must eliminate this discriminatory system to rectify decades worth of policies that have degraded minorities and low-income communities.