Home | About | Donate

Standardized Testing is a Tool of White Supremacy

Standardized Testing is a Tool of White Supremacy

Steven Singer

Let’s say you punched me in the face.

I wouldn’t like it. I’d protest. I’d complain.

And then you might apologize and say it was just an accident.

Maybe I’d believe you.

Until the next time when we met and you punched me again.

That’s the problem we, as a society, have with standardized tests.

We keep using them to justify treating students of color as inferior and/or subordinate to white children. And we never stop or even bothered to say, “I’m sorry.”

1 Like

The practice of standardized testing concentrates wealth into private hands and is therefore inherently “American”.

1 Like


I increasingly have this mental image of the ‘system’ as a net with specifically measured economic theoretically spun fibers with gaping spaces teased open. The ‘holes’ in the fabric are like the suspended dream of system as opium (spaced out, externalized, insensate, extractive etc…) addict clawing at the fibers.
The system MUST have a certain percentage of “externalized” components, otherwise the predatory and parasitic dynamics for the propaganda bludgeons would collapse. The PP premises can only imagine tinkle, I mean trickle-down, crumb dropping. So, these extractive premises MUST be built into all aspects of societal structure.
The irony of course being that we experience the resulting stagnation from incompetence of first premises so assiduously rammed into place by generations of the same…

1 Like

Despite the ethnic and cultural biases inherent in these tools, some standardized testing instruments still remain fairly good predictive tools for how well students will do as they move on to an undergraduate education program. But, I’m not making an ends justify the means argument. This is just an observation. With intelligence tests, it’s difficult to determine the validity that what is measured is a representation of some concept called intelligence. With content knowledge tests that don’t relate outcomes to an intelligence bellcurve, there is still an issue of whether the content disproportionately favors one cultural group over another. How many white people could accurately identify the contributions of Onesimus to current medical practices for example? While the discussion of the issue of bias in testing is nothing new, and the cynical reasons for their development and use extend beyond what the writer has listed (e.g., less cynical needs for identifying who is or is not in need of special education services), it is absolutely true that the tests were used to confirm biases and prejudices. I guess I would just want to know what Steven suggests be used for high stakes educational decisions. Grades from schools that are unequal in their rigor? While “A Nation at Risk” was a true disaster, “the war on poverty” and subsequent “Project Follow Through” may have pointed a way to address the disparities in education that grew in the public’s attention since Sputnik.

"It’s time to hang up the tests."

You’re forgetting that it isn’t just the tests and the test makers that are racially supremacist, but also the parents.

Get rid of the tests and all the affluent white people will start a war because they need to know what school district to move to to reinforce their and their children’s white supremacy, and test scores are the only way they have of knowing this.

You remember the wars they tried to start over busing?

Actually, the racism of the initiators of these tests would not be at all necessary to ensure that they would involve a measure of bigotry. The phenomenon is intrinsic to so-called “objective” testing even when designers and administrators are cautious and enlightened.

Of course, well administered tests are not without their utility. There is some tracing of cerebral alacrity accomplished by IQ testing, and some correspondence between SAT or GRE scores and a certain measure of academic accomplishment. Nonetheless, these are culture-centric, inevitably limited by the intelligence and cultural norms of the designers and administrators. Also, the results are limited by the capacities of those who view those results to interpret them.

I happen to teach graduate English, a field in which ethnocentrism and denials of ethnocentrism–entire specialties devoted to such denials–abound. In such an extreme setting, it is fairly easy to see the problem, and I think it can be described clearly here.

Not everyone grows up speaking academic English; in fact, almost none of us do. We would find it perfectly obvious that a Chinese student with no exposure to English might do poorly on a test in which all questions were framed in English. We have some acknowledgement, within the profession, that it is harder for students whose dialects do not conform to academic English. Still, at the same time, we insist that students write this dialect, and, to varying degrees, we grade accordingly.

To some extent, this becomes an inevitable extension of having standardized language at all. To perhaps a greater extent, it is a natural consequence of the impossibility of universal cultural fluency on the part of instructors. As a white person who grew up in California in the 50s and 60s, I am not a fluent speaker of Scots English, Irish brogue, Cockney, posh Londoner, Gullah-descended African American patois, Spanish-influenced inner-city Chicano, or a lot of other variants that I see less often.

But whatever else may be done about standardization, it has to be recognized that people who take tests in a culture that is not their own are impeded to various extents by the distinctions in culture. And this is true not only of English tests, but of tests in other fields in which questions are phrased in English.

Now, to an extent, that has to include even a test in arithmetic. And it has to be almost across the board in anything else. And not all assumptions about even testing itself are couched in language. Still, the prejudice in language is relatively easy to track. Most of you have taken objective tests, and you must recall looking at apparently easy multiple-guess questions in which more than one answer appeared correct or in which no answer whatsoever appeared correct and wondered something like “What does the instructor mean by that?”

Your answer in such an instance became a best guess at particular ambiguities in the tester’s usage or syntax; your score thereby became, to that extent, a function of cultural familiarity.

There is some difficulty with this because some parts of academics eventually licenses medics and lawyers and engineers and also teachers, and it would be grossly impractical to assume that people whose cultures we do not understand closely have achieved competence just because we cannot test them fairly.

But it does suggest that the current emphasis on such testing should be reversed. It also suggests that we should not work so hard at withholding education from people, particularly young people. It is really a remarkable folly to imagine that the only person who benefits from an education is the student who receives it. I recall one afternoon directly after class watching those colored stripes race by on a hospital ceiling and being very glad to imagine that at least the people attending me had studied. I would have been a good deal happier had I imagined that they had all been treated fairly, and also particularly that each had been treated far better than I imagined that he or she had.

The hero you educate may be your own. If not, there are a lot of other people who could use help. And were there not such enormous fees to pay upon graduation, graduates would more reliably choose work based on how they helped rather than what they might be paid, a bit more like the starry-eyed goals one hears from them in their first years leaving home or deciding, finally, to study voluntarily.

1 Like

Concentrating the wealth into private hands…

Not to mention all this emphasis on test scores and their financial rewards oftentimes has nothing to do with the childrens’ well being.When my best friend’s son was about 8 years old, in elementary school in our town, he got pneumonia right as the tests were being administered. An asthmatic, he was running a fever of 104. But he was also a bright boy and guaranteed to bring their overall scores up. The school actually had the gall to call and ask if he could come in and take the test. His mother told them he was ill and running a fever. They STILL wanted him to come in. Needless to say, she told them where they could go.

1 Like

According to The Nation Magazine, the testing craze in education was born in Kennebunkport Maine. The Bushes and the McGraws of McGraw-Hill are next door neighbors. McGraw Hill owned Princeton Testing Service…bingo!!! Getting public money into private hands and putting kids down with the same storke!!! Brilliant!

1 Like

while tests can always be tweaked to reduce bias, as a math teacher I can’t see the point of this article, for example to advance to study calculus there needs to be a sufficient grasp of algebra and standardized tests are a pretty reasonable way to estimate that. If everyone takes a similar test I don’t see why that is a racial issue. The racial issue is the effects from quality of the schools, what parents face, nutrition, community…

1 Like

Standardized Testing: The best way to ensure the standardized human specimen, i.e., non-critical thinking, soul crushed, anti-creative, round-pegged zombie. Good for business, good for war, good to the last penny.

1 Like

Beautiful insight thyoldgoat! It begs the image of Paulo Freire and Slavoj Zizek taking ‘it’ up over several beers at a bohemian pub.

1 Like

I doubt that it is just "American. " It basically was marketed to state that only certain kids were qualified to go to college. This was furthur stated in a book called The Bell Curve- which I did not read BTW, but did read about. It basically stated that only kids who had a 120 or over IQ were qualified to go to college. It also made racially prejudiced statements against black students which was unbelievable. Today, many white supremicists take this at its rotten word.

Actually schools especially starting in the 19th century were gearing students up to work at factories, march in line and join the military.

I understand that- the schools are a product of the community.

I don’t know what comments I will get here but another thing is also going on at the opposite end. Kids with special needs are being shoved into classes where they need intensive one on one support, and even with that frequently do not know what is going on there. The reason? Inclusion, baby! While some students might just need some physical allowances- others might have behavior problems where they disrupt the entire class and sometimes need to be escorted out. Yes, the other students get an exposure to those who need more assistance, but they also might lose out while the teachers have to readjust to the situation. The theory of multiple intelligences ( 1997) brought this out along with heavy duty mainstreaming called inclusion. This is applied big time today as well, and some students along with some modifications take the same standardized tests even when they have special needs( like allowing for extra time or having an extra person in the room more bathroom breaks, low intensity lighting etc.

1 Like

“Standardized Testing is a Tool of White Supremacy”

Must have worked that way at the beginning. Asian kids are kicking white kids’ asses in standardized testing for quite while now.


If I ever have children I will make sure to do whatever I can to exempt them from standardized testing. Having to “study” and take such tests was one of the most needlessly stressful experiences in my life and ultimately for what? I feel that such tests are one of the first real indoctrination to children that in the world they won’t be regarded any more than gears in a machine. You could argue that all of public school does that but it isn’t exemplified more than it is in standardized tests.

1 Like

Common sense statement: Tell me what you will do; do it; tell me what you’ve done.

In education, the first day of class the students (or their parents) are presented with a syllabus describing what will be taught. Then a semester of teaching the class. Then assessing whether the students have learned the subject. In a cooking class, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and whether a pudding is divine on the tongue or a piece of crap has nothing to do with the race of the student. Similar assessments can be devised for other courses.

(There is a separate ‘cultural appropriation’ issue of whether a white person is even ALLOWED to attempt to make Mexican food, at least to go into business selling Mexican food. …)

(We have to face the malicious notion that the only way to be absolutely positive that we are not holding back ‘persons of color’ or women is if it is blatantly obvious that we are instead holding back white males.)