| Sep 16, 2022

Reassessing the Effects of Standardized Testing on Social Inequity

Recruiters who still rely on traditional metrics of academic success may miss out on high-quality candidates — adding to the history of testing that has contributed to the divide between privileged and under-privileged.

Google doesn’t care about their applicants’ GPA. Apple won’t turn away a candidate if they don’t have a  college degree. Have you ever seen a recruiter on LinkedIn mention SAT or ACT scores? It’s no secret: Innovative leaders look beyond standardized testing to assess competency. The negative effects of “teaching to the test” are openly discussed. Yet standardized tests have settled into the status quo of the educational experience.

Individuals whose strengths aren’t validated by test-taking at an early age get shorted by the system. They fail to set in motion the compounding effect of being a high achiever: More prestigious classes, elevated GPAs, more prestigious college acceptance, and scholarships.

When you look at which demographics are considered “high achievers” by standardized tests, the compounding effect is drastic. Our current system perpetuates these knock-on effects with no consideration for creating equity. The recruiters that are relying on old metrics of academic success are failing to level the playing field and are improperly assessing ability. How can we say that we are setting up future generations for success when the current generation is not given a chance?

Administrators, recruiters, and leaders who are still relying on GPAs, standardized test scores, and other traditional metrics may be missing out on the chance to build a well-rounded team with diverse strengths and perspectives. What might they see if they break free from the mindset that standardized testing and metrics have built? 

Standardized Tests Don’t Measure Full Scope of Intelligence

That standardized tests fail to assess a student’s full potential isn’t a new argument. In 1983, developmental psychologist Howard Gardner first introduced his “theory of multiple intelligences.” He has spoken out since about his disapproval of standardized tests. All types of intelligence, as defined by Gardner, are not considered during the creation of today’s standardized tests: Musical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence. 

Students solve problems and gather knowledge using these types of intelligence in “the real world” but they are not able to apply them to most standardized tests or college applications. (Gardner advocates for alternative forms of assessment, such as a performance or complex project.)

The achievement gap begins to widen once an individual’s full potential is ignored. A child is deemed “bad at school” due to their lack of verbal or logical intelligence. From there, they fail to be set up for success by their school simply because they failed to memorize a few facts.


Have We Learned Anything Since Larry P.?

Standardized tests uplift one type of student with a handful of strengths, and neglect others who are equally intelligent but in different ways. They have a long history of being biased toward certain demographics. Unintentionally or intentionally, they leave already underprivileged students behind.

This bias was embedded in the design and distribution of standardized tests. One of the creators of the SAT was a eugenist who believed his test showed the superiority of “the Nordic race.” In 1979, Larry P. v. Riles brought the discrimination behind IQ testing into the national spotlight. Larry P. was a student whose education was neglected. He was unfairly placed in an inferior classroom where he had little access to resources because he scored low on an IQ test. 

In that trial, US District Judge Robert Peckham determined that the IQ tests were biased toward white and middle-class students. As a result, minority and lower-class students were more likely to be placed in inferior classes. In his decision, Judge Peckham banned the administration of IQ tests to Black students. But little has changed in how tests are now monitored for bias.

Standardized testing continues to perpetuate bias through the inequitable distribution of resources. It is the status quo and aims to maintain the status quo. Schools with lower scores are not given extra resources to make education more equitable. Instead, low-performing schools are punished with lower teacher pay and less funding. The achievement gap continues to widen, as it did when Larry P. was placed in a classroom that did not suit his needs.

Equity is Not Possible If We Teach to the Test

The standardized testing system as we know it is a vicious cycle. Resources are distributed to schools that perform well on standardized tests (typically white and middle-class). Others are left to fend for themselves and what little resources they have are largely used for standardized test preparation. Other types of intelligence and skills are ignored because in order for schools to get funding and prestige, they must teach to the test. Academics Daniel R. Conn and Michelle Tenam-Zamech comment on this cycle in their essay, “Confronting the Assessment Industrial Complex: A Call for a Shift from Testing Rhetoric.”

“As a consequence of the AIC, communities of color have lost a say in what their children learn and how they get to learn it,” they write. “Certainly, the AIC does not deserve all the blame for the destruction of public schools and the oppressive nature of the curriculum, but it has contributed to eroding democratic liberties from the very students it promises to protect.”

Removing Bias From the Job Recruitment Process

The problems surrounding standardized testing reach far beyond which individuals are deemed “intelligent.” In the context of the job market, standardized measurements assessed by artificial intelligence are determining the fate of many candidates. How do we ensure that AI is looking at resumes without bias? What “standards” are being fed to bots that screen resumes? Are these questions even being asked? 

As the effects of standardized testing are acknowledged, it is time for recruiters to take a closer look at who or what is creating the “standards” for tomorrow’s workforce. The hold that GPA and standardized testing have on education and recruitment must be addressed to provide every individual with an equal opportunity to succeed.

Megan Okonsky

Opinion Contributor, Strixus

Megan Okonsky is a copywriter and ghostwriter based in Austin, Texas. After graduating from Temple University in 2015, she created a travel blog and began work as a junior copywriter. view profile


Related Posts