• Thomas Jones

Talking About Standardized Testing

Many elite US colleges and universities have suspended standardized testing requirements for students in the spring 2021 and 2022 admissions cycles, primarily because of the disproportionate impact of covid-19 on low-income and minority communities and the disruption of K-12 public education. News outlets report this has resulted in dramatic surges in applications to top schools, including from black and brown students. Applicants who normally tout high standardized test scores have less of an "ace in the hole". There may be proposals to make this suspension permanent in the name of fairness and equity.

Opponents of standardized testing argue that test results are primarily reflective of socioeconomic status and test preparation resources. They say standardized testing is a tool to legitimize an "illusion of meritocracy" which facilitates admission of students from high- income communities to elite universities, and in turn positions those students for high- income occupations with employers that recruit exclusively or predominately from those elite universities. Many lower-income and minority students do not achieve the test scores required to access this "meritocracy pipeline".

Proponents of standardized testing argue that standardized tests historically were often a tool to fight racial discrimination. They say black students achieved their proportional representation until the 1970s in testing-driven public education systems such as New York City's Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). They say objective measurements of student achievement are necessary for students, educational institutions, and prospective employers to make fair decisions.

My personal experience is that I tested well enough to compete with the socioeconomic elites, including success on New York City's SHSAT in the early 1960's and admission to Cornell University in 1965. My career benefitted from the professional credibility bestowed by standardized testing. One pertinent example is when I worked at "big eight" public accounting firm Arthur Young & Company in the 1970's, and was assigned to manage the financial statements audit at publisher Union Leader Corporation in Manchester, New Hampshire. The Union Leader was a prominent national conservative newspaper, with significant influence in Republican presidential politics. When I first arrived at their office I could see the surprise on their faces that a young black man was leading the audit. I learned from subsequent conversations that they "gave me the benefit of the doubt" in part because they knew I had passed the two-and-one-half day Massachusetts standardized exam to become a certified public accountant ("CPA"). It was important to their self-image that they espoused conservative political and social philosophies, but were not racist, so would not object to me just because of race.

America is attempting to succeed as a multiracial and multicultural democracy. Asian Americans and Latinos already exceed the African American proportion of the population, with faster growth. I think the only sustainable basis for America's melting pot of races and cultures to coexist harmoniously is on the principles of equal opportunity and equal treatment under law. This will mean merit-based decisions in all competitive spheres including education, business, and government. It means that America must shoulder the responsibility of providing education and other support tools which give every child a fair chance to succeed on merit, fairly and objectively measured.

What do you think?

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