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Standardized Testing as a Racialized Assessment: The Invisible Gatekeeper for Black Students

Standardized Testing as a Racialized Assessment: The Invisible Gatekeeper for Black Students

In 2018, I applied to over eight institutions with a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees. I took the GRE 5 times and the GMAT twice within two years leading up to 2019. I received one decision letter stating, “Dear Ms. Ekpe, The Graduate School has received your application for admission and has referred to the ‘department.’ It is their recommendation, because your standardized test scores are not competitive with the respect to the field of applicants, that you not be admitted to the degree program for which you have applied. I have approved this recommendation.” In 2018, nine schools told me ‘no,’ which some schools stated because my test scores did not meet the requirement. A test score that does not define my ability. Holding to what some call a ‘neutral assessment’ to analyze and assess an applicant’s capability has continued to uphold long-standing heteropatriarchal practices that exclude Black students from their highest educational pursuits. It’s long overdue for change.

With many colleges and universities getting rid of standardized testing requirements within their admissions policies in the wake of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, one could only ask the bigger question, “What were the tests being used for in the first place?” The college admission controversy of 2019, in which affluent parents paid thousands for fake test results, stressed the degree to which money can be purchased in standardized tests. Still, we have yet to hear much about the incident since. Because many schools have a standardized non-multicultural curriculum that structurally implements Whiteness as a standard, Black students’ cultures and voices eventually remain silent, notably when the assessments do not include their voices, cultures, and experiences. Ironically, SATs initially pushed the academy toward egalitarianism. The tests were developed to recognize students from all walks of life who had mastery of college success’s academic subjects. However, its roots and origins contradict this notion, as the testing system was implemented as a tool to support affluent communities. Anyone in education should be worried about how the SAT’s overemphasis distorts educational priorities and policies, how many view the test as unjust, and how it harms students’ self-esteem and ambitions.

Even with the new test-optional movement, many universities have continued to exacerbate inequalities by relying on test scores as a foundation of the admissions process. Although universities claim to examine admission processes wholistically, the matter is that because the tests stand as a requirement for numerous scholarships, racial inequities are further exacerbated. After the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has taken its turn on the education system as we know it, the global crisis exposure has perpetuated long-standing biases against minoritized communities, particularly Black students. Moreover, many colleges and universities in the U.S. utilize high-stakes assessments as a racialized sorting assessment that negatively impacts Black students, especially those from low-income families. Testing is used to account for these racialized projects that have been practiced since the eugenics movement, which emphasized the natural superiority of wealthy, White, American-born males.

Sequentially, post-secondary institutions have inadvertently and advertently supported long-standing eugenics and racial policies in the academy. According to Edward Larson, eugenics was another way to enforce White supremacy. A more just educational system is one where Black students can achieve their highest possible educational attainment. So what should colleges and universities do about this long-standing policy that has traditionally kept Black students out of post-secondary institutions? Get rid of the test requirements within admissions. It is time out for hearing about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) plans for institutions while these same institutions still require a test that was instated to keep specific students out of higher education, going against the DEI principles they say they abide by.

For colleges and universities far and wide, the school’s ranking is optimized when it enrolls students who score the highest on market metrics. Research suggests that universities operate primarily on prestige instead of a competitive basis. It makes sense to exclude students based on tests if that is their mission instead of advancing inclusive education. As Ibram X. Kendi states, “the tests, not the Black test-takers, have been underachieving.” Until universities and colleges intentionally choose to eliminate tests that have failed to measure intelligence and predict academic and professional successes, the same education system that preaches justice and liberation for all will never experience reform.

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