School standardization, applied to both curricula and testing protocols, is intended to increase the overall level of education, as well as allow students from lower-performing schools better opportunities to achieve more equitable outcomes. Although some studies have shown standardization programs to have the intended beneficial effects, because of their failure to accommodate individual learning styles and environmental conditions, they can disadvantage students from socioeconomic and ethnocultural minority groups. Considering the importance of standardized school testing, such as the SAT, this disadvantage can continue later in life, ultimately contributing to racial and socioeconomic segregation.
Standardized testing is based on question-and-answer measurement of a student’s performance. However, since their inception in the early 1900s, such tests were often based on faulty premises and contained significant social class bias (Knoester & Au, 2015). Furthermore, standardized tests are by their nature limited in their ability to accurately and objectively measure a student’s knowledge or performance (Knoester & Au, 2015). They can only measure a specific subset of one’s knowledge, obscuring the ultimate learning outcome and failing to account for his or her individual traits (Knoester & Au, 2015). This subset is determined by the questions’ design, which are subject to racial and class biases, in turn reproducing similar biases in future tests (Knoester & Au, 2015). In essence, the developers of such tests translate their existing biases, which were introduced by previous developers since the tests’ introduction.
While racial biases are associated with disadvantaging students from non-white ethnocultural backgrounds, class biases disadvantage those from a lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Knoester & Au (2015) note that although the school environment has a significant impact on a student’s ultimate performance, out-of-school environmental variables have a greater effect. This is particularly notable in relation to the effect of poverty and factors such as family income, neighborhood violence, and available medical care (Knoester & Au, 2015). Thus, children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are often less prepared to perform well at standardized testing. Moreover, as in the U.S., poor socioeconomic conditions disproportionately affect non-white communities, this disparity creates a compound negative effect on such communities (Knoester & Au, 2015). As such, a vicious cycle may be formed that perpetuates any preexisting socioeconomic or ethnocultural inequalities.
Another criticism is informed by the importance of standardized testing results to both students and schools. As schools that service communities of color and lower socioeconomic status tend to perform worse on standardized tests, these schools also tend to limit their students’ curricula to focus on achieving test results (Knoester & Au, 2015). This creates a situation where such minority communities experience segregated curricula that focus more on rote memorization and less on subjects such as art or social studies (Knoester & Au, 2015). This divide is further exacerbated by the pressure to increase test scores, as a school’s available funding and other resources depend on these scores (Knoester & Au, 2015). Thus, the standards may be unachievable to some schools, groups, or communities.
The above criticisms show that, although the standards to which individuals and schools are held may be equal, achieving these standards can be difficult or impossible for some. These disparities are related to ethnocultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Because of these disparities, one can argue that standardization, particularly standardized testing, in schools, acts counter to its intended purpose of giving students equal opportunities in education.
Knoester, M., & Au, W. (2015). Standardized testing and school segregation: like tinder for fire? Race, Ethnicity and Education, 20(1), 1-14. Web.