Racial Justice and Standardized Educational Testing
likelihood that students of color will have inaccurately low scores. Stereotype threat means that students who are aware of racial and gender stereotypes about their group’s intellectual ability score lower on standardized tests perceived to measure academic aptitude. In effect, the use of high- stakes testing in an overall environment of racial inequality perpetuates that inequality
through the emotional and psychological power of the tests over the test-takers.vi
In addition to direct individual harm, high-stakes testing is far more likely to lower the quality of curriculum, instruction and school climate in schools serving children of color:
The damage created by high-stakes testing compounds rather than ameliorates the huge inequities caused by poverty and continuing racism. However, solutions to these problems exist.
Organizations and individuals must work to bring about these changes:
1. Congress must address the structural and resource inequities that plague communities with high concentrations of low-income students, most intensely those of color. This means providing adequate school resources and addressing the intertwined consequences of poverty and racism that make it very difficult for most students to reach high levels of success in school.
2. Congress must overhaul ESEA/NCLB. (The current version of NCLB is the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESEA.) It must end high-stakes uses of tests to evaluate schools and districts. Standardized test scores should be one minor factor in evaluating school status and progress.xii Congress also must reject the Department of Education's policy of pressuring states to use test scores to evaluate teachers and principals. Tests should be only a minor factor in staff evaluations. States and districts must then follow suit.
3. States and districts must end high-stakes uses of standardized tests. No student should be held back, denied a diploma or placed in an academic track based on a test score. If used, tests should be only a minor factor, while the various tests must be improved.xiii
4. Colleges and universities can go test-score optional. Nearly 830 accredited, four-year
institutions already have. The rest should, and graduate schools need to adopt the same
5. Congress and the states must support proven positive forms of assessment coupled with professional development that enables effective uses of such assessments. In addition, they must provide supports for ensuring schools are hospitable, engaging, supportive and academically challenging for all their students.xv
i For an extended discussion, see Neill, M. 2009. “A Child Is Not a Test Score: Assessment as a Civil Rights Issue.” 2009. Root and Branch, V.II, N.2. Available at
ii FairTest. 2008. “Why Graduation Tests/Exit Exams Fail to Add Value to High School Diplomas.”
http://www.fairtest.org/gradtestfactmay08; FairTest. 2010. “How Testing Feeds the School to Prison Pipeline.” http://www.fairtest.org/how-testing-feeds-schooltoprison-pipeline.
iii FairTest. n.d. Testing and Grade Retention. http://www.fairtest.org/arn/retenfct.htm; FairTest Examiner. 2006, May. “Grade Retention: Still a Failed Policy.” http://www.fairtest.org/tests-and-grade-retention.
FairTest Examiner. 2008, Oct. “Tests and Grade Retention.” http://www.fairtest.org/tests-and-graderetention.
iv See materials at http://www.fairtest.org/university.
v Advancement Project, et al. 2010. Federal Policy, ESEA Reauthorization, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline. http://www.fairtest.org/file/Federal_Policy,_ESEA_Reauthorization,_and_the_School-to-Prison_Pipeline_-_12_06_10-1.pdf. Neill, M., Guisbond, L. & Schaeffer, B. 2004. Failing Our Children. Cambridge, MA: FairTest. Available at http://www.fairtest.org/node/1778.
vi FairTest Examiner. 1995. “Stereotypes Lower Test Scores.” October.
vii Neill, M. 2005. “Assessment of ELL Students under NCLB: Problems and Solutions.”
viii Neill, et al. 2009. Op. cit. FairTest Examiner. 2007, Jan. “NCLB Reforms for Disabled Students.”
ix Neill. 2009. Op cit. Neill, et al. 2004. Op cit.
x Neill, et al. 2004. Op cit.
xi Advancement Project, et al. 2010. Op cit. FairTest. 2010. “How Testing Feeds the School to Prison Pipeline.” http://www.fairtest.org/how-testing-feeds-schooltoprison-pipeline. Advancement Project (2010). Test, Punish, and Push Out: How “Zero Tolerance” and High-Stakes Testing Funnel Youth Into the School-to-Prison Pipeline. http://www.advancementproject.org/digital-library/publications/testpunish-
xii Forum on Educational Accountability, various materials at http://www.edaccountability.org. Neill, M.
2010. A Better Way to Assess Students and Evaluate Schools, Education Week, Dec. 18; available, with related material, at http://www.fairtest.org/k-12/accountability.
xiii FairTest. 2008. Why Graduation Tests/Exit Exams Fail to Add Value to High School Diplomas.
xiv FairTest. 2010. Test Score Optional List. http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional.
xv Forum on Educational Accountability. 2009. Empowering Schools and Improving Learning.
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