Standardized Tests and Privilege Systems

We cannot continue to pander to our corrupting need for ease–the manner by which we turn simplicity into the simplistic is also the one that turns from necessary complexity because we misunderstand this complexity to be complication. I do not want to sound like some reactionary nut who is going to spout the virtues, if not simply the benefits, of standards, as if that word in itself said anything, the word having become a conservative mantra, coupled with a belief that standardized tests are the way for schools to improve, making their assessments the first and the last in state decisions for education. I cannot say that I agree with any of the former inferences or conclusions.

I also do not like the American penchant for playing ping pong instead of articulating an idea, so I am not going to join the camp that wishes to make all standardized testing irrelevant, marginalizing standardized tests for entrance to college and graduate school. Standardized tests are made by the state to be administered in public and private schools and are used to measure specialized knowledge or abilities and dexterities with knowledge or facts or problem solving in a select context. The pressure is part of the exam; do not tell me you know the subject but just cannot perform on the exam because it is too stressful. Kids and parents from communities allowed to talk like this are always going to be marginalized.

The standardized nature of the test is also indicative of a select kind of socialization, one that some communities have either been allowed not to participate in, instead maintaining the illusion that there is somehow white knowledge and knowledge that is other. The inability for some to adapt to the standardized test is enforced by supporters of affirmative action; we have to systematically under-educate, under-prepare kids in some communities, often perpetuated by members of that community, in order to justify the idea we are endemically racist and therefore need multimillion dollar bureacracies to address a problem the government, the media and the people themselves help create. Are we really going to continue to say that the tests are designed by whites for whites and that African-Anerican mental ability is something not judged by the exam. If the test does not test certain kinds of knowledge or some knowledge in circumstances or contexts outside the exam–of course this is true. But it is equally true for white kids as well. I do understand that there are opponents to standardized tests who make their argument unilateral and universal. This is no better in my mind, and just might be worse. Standardized tests test what they test in the context they do so and is a tool in assessment that works for the mainstream. That’s all. It is a test of socialization as much as anything else. No body wants an unsocialized person in their socialized environment. Showing up to an interview in a tuxedo because it is the only suit you own and not making it work for you in the interview means you should not get the job.

Critiques of the exam on the manner in which these exams might be racist do not address the ways both bureaucracy and members of the disenfranchised communities help perpetuate the problems kids from these communities have when preparing for the exam. Moreover, are we to say that only white kids should be subject to the rigor of the exam, but others be allowed the privilege of not conforming to the standards because we have to understand that kids in ethnic neighborhoods (and ethnic here is used to refer to race as well) are educated differently, although in the same cities and same country; that we just do not understand that there are other ways for these kids to know or express the same level of understanding that the exam does not test????? Do we mean to say we should create spaces of privilege–and it would be a privilege if we were to say that lesser scores for others are as acceptable as higher scores for whites.

You would understand this if you actually understood what a privilege is and how they work in societies, how they are doled out to repressed groups or repressed individuals in a society in lieu of any change in the overall manner in which the repression functions. But we do not want to address this because our received ideas will not allow it. Maybe affirmative action is another thing that indicates how endemically racist we are–and your initial response is also indicative because I am saying that affirmative action sets in motion and manifests a whole group of ways in which the society perpetuates racism, and against black Americans.

Privilege systems are mostly for oppressed groups and we have to understand that privileges by any other name are still as odious as privileges because they do indicate a society where everyone enjoys different liberties and often confuse license for the liberty.


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